Faith takes us on a journey unlike any that we might imagine. Fishermen become apostles. Adversaries are transformed into evangelists. Tax collectors pen holy words. Sinners are forgiven. An amazing life begins to unfold the moment that we believe, and it never stops. The ultimate destination is eternity with the Lord, but that is later. Right now we have maturing to do.
Spiritual maturity is the goal that has been set before us. Our aim is to become like Christ in every phase of our lives (Ephesians 4:15), and anything less is unacceptable. It is an arduous journey. Each heart must subject itself to the careful scrutiny of Scripture as it probes the deepest recesses of our minds. Relationships are adjusted as the commands are applied. The words of God investigate our every motive. The only alternative is permanent adolescence. Some accept that. The faithful do not.
“Speaking the truth…” Maturity demands that we take a stand. Compromise dilutes and distorts that which is pure, and purity is what we need to grow up. It may be unpleasant, but it is essential. The Lord set the church on a firm foundation of truth, and it is our assignment to be the pillar and support of that very same truth (1 Timothy 3:15). There is not another option. If we depart from truth, what is left?
“In love…” This is the second part of the maturity equation. We miss the mark when we leave out one or the other. Certainly it takes truth, but let us not overlook the love component. Saying the right thing is important. Saying it in the right way with the proper motivation is equally vital. We are all fragile and words, even true ones, can be devastating when they are spoken in an unloving way. They build up or tear down, help or harm depending on their delivery. Use them carefully. Once they are spoken they can never be retrieved.
To be like Jesus is a never ending quest. We study, watch and learn or remain stuck in spiritual infancy. As the church lurches through a difficult time in which most congregations are in decline, we face unprecedented challenges from the American culture. Prayer is being outlawed. Expressions of faith are being forbidden. True Christians are being ridiculed and ostracized. It is easier to blend in. We must resist the tide and grow up. Truth and love are the only ways to get there, and we need them both.
John drives the nail of faith almost a hundred times in his gospel. He collected, edited and wrote a series of signs to cultivate it (John 20:30-31). Jesus performed the miraculous to instill belief. That is the key to really living. Most people live and die a faithless life. God does not want that for us. It leads to a meaningless existence followed by a hopeless death.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is a life altering fact. When we truly grasp it, along with its corresponding significance, we are never the same again. He entered into the flesh and blood reality of humanity (John 1:14). He created it and then joined it. Redemption is an expensive matter. It cost the Son His physical life to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). When that becomes real to us it pierces deep into our hearts and changes us.
He who was with God in the beginning and was God from eternity (John 1:1) became a person. He has been hungry. He lived with to-the-bone fatigue. He can identify with rejection. Excruciating pain is permanently part of His experience. Nail scarred hands plead our case before His Father. He carries to the eternal throne all of the knowledge of how powerful temptation is (Hebrews 4:14-15). He is fully acquainted with all of our struggles. What a descent He endured to lift us out of the pit of sin. Faith knows that and responds.
Full surrender to His authority and power is the only hope that we have of living to our full potential. It elevates us out of the temporary into the eternal. He has all authority (Matthew 28:18). It matters not where we go or who we know, He is supreme. True conviction of who He is will lead us to accept fully what He says, which in turn brings about a most amazing transformation. Estranged sinners have the option of becoming children of God (John 1:12). Faith unlocks the door to a totally new existence.
We have a book filled with information that is designed to cultivate faith, without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is the guiding principle for all of life (2 Corinthians 5:7) and focuses our attention on unseen realities (Hebrews 11:1). When we allow it to direct us, our paths become noticeably different. People of faith do not think and act like everyone else. It is a remarkable life. Jesus described it as abundant, and it is ours for the taking, if we will believe.
Involvement brings growth. Great athletes do not simply sit in the stands and watch. Improvement in any endeavor demands time and participation. With precious few exceptions, we will not be very good when we begin. Whether it is dribbling a basketball or delivering a speech, a novice is usually obvious. Accomplishment comes through a little natural skill and a lot of sweat. We get better at whatever we do. The same is true of the church.
Jesus offered the perfect training program. He selected a dozen with a simple invitation, “Follow Me,” and they did. They had a front row seat for healings, resurrections, exorcisms and teaching. They saw it first hand. He was the teacher, and they were the pupils. Their assignment was to learn. He did not just tell them, He showed them. Their mission would soon be revealed. There was much more going on than just getting some information into their heads.
They did not remain in their seats for long. After observing the master for awhile, it was time to get into the action themselves (Matt. 10). Being a spectator is important, but it is not an end in itself. The bigger agenda is preparation for the assignment. He called them, and then He sent them. That is the essence of what Christianity is all about. It is not passive sitting but active doing. Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1).
The Lord put the twelve on a fairly short leash at first. Go to Jews only. No Gentiles. Steer clear of Samaritan cities. Only seek a particular portion of the people. Later, they would have the most important and widespread mission imaginable. The entire world would be their mission field, and disciples would come from all the nations. That was for later, not now. He told them where to go, what to do and gave them a sobering dose of reality: it will be rough out there.
That ragtag bunch would eventually turn the world upside down. Now it is our turn. Getting into the action is what it is all about. We have come together today to encourage each other to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). We each have skills that no one else has. We are unique, and uniquely qualified to fill an indispensable role in the body of Christ. Now let us prepare and get into the game. When we do, we will grow both individually and collectively into the Christians and the church that He intends for us to be.
Children have always occupied a special place in the Lord’s heart. More than once, He scooped them up to make a point to the more mature. The way we treat them, we treat Him (Mark 9:36-37). It makes us wonder if we are really as wise as we might think. How easily we dismiss the least of these.
His disciples even miscalculated their value in the Lord’s eyes (Mark 10:13-16). As the people attempted to bring the children to Him for a touch, the disciples objected. They tried to send them away, but the Lord would have none of that. He did not like it one bit and said so. To hinder the children was to misunderstand the kingdom of God. To reject the kids was to disqualify themselves. The rejected found a home and a blessing in the arms of the Savior. Yes, Jesus loves the little children.
The Israelites dropped the ball when they entered the Promised Land. Maybe they were too preoccupied with fighting wars to spend much time in the classroom. Only they and God knew what went wrong, but they failed in one of their most important duties. They did not teach their children, and as a result a generation came along that was ignorant of the Lord (Judges 2:10). That began a disastrous cycle that would repeat itself throughout the history of the nation. The lesson is significant: If we do not teach our children disaster is sure to follow.
The Scriptures put a particular emphasis on educating children in the home. No one influences a child more than parents, and that fact is not lost on God. Dads particularly are told to discipline and instruct their offspring in the things that pertain to the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Long before Paul wrote it, that concept was communicated to the Jews. There is no wrong time to teach the right things (Deut. 6:7). Every place is a classroom. Lessons learned in adolescence will never be forgotten. Do not waste a minute.
Our Vacation Bible School is this week. It is the first time in years that we have had a VBS and is our opportunity to demonstrate to the Lord and to our children how important they are to us. The world has never needed it more. With all of the negative influences that bombard them, the children need what God offers. It is our prayer that we will all join hands to make the world of a child a little better and brighter. We will be looking for you Wednesday evening at 7.
One of the few things about which we have no choice is making choices. It has been that way from the beginning. God gave us the freedom to accept or reject Him. Eve chose poorly. Adam followed suit, and soon the world was spinning out of control. When wickedness and violence had consumed virtually every heart, Noah emerged with a different lifestyle. God noticed.
Noah was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:7), and people of faith think differently. They do not simply live in ways that are out of step with current trends, their thought process is influenced by God. Noah believed and responded to the warning that the Lord issued. It was a life and death decision which he took seriously, grabbed his tools and prepared for the ultimate torrents of judgment. The point of origin is the conviction that what God says is true.
Engage the intellect. Drench your thoughts with heavenly concepts. Actions begin as thoughts. It starts between our ears and materializes into actions. We have little trouble understanding that we should love the Lord with all of our heart. That seems natural, but loving God with all of our minds may be another story. Think of all of the impressions that you allowed into your brain during the past week. Did they enhance or impede your reception of Godly principles?
Are we cultivating a heavenly way of seeing reality? Do we include the Lord in every decision that we make? Miscalculations result from inadequate information. We are highly unlikely to come to the right conclusions if we do not take the divine perspective into account. Everyday we face tough decisions, and mistakes come when we do not understand what God says about the matter (Matt.22:29). Without His input our decision making will be shaky, at best.
We must rid ourselves every unrighteous thought that we have (Isaiah 55:7). They are incompatible with those which the Creator of our minds wants us to have and will keep us from reaching our highest mental potential. Our ways go wrong and our journeys are perverted when we cling to them. We are called to renovate our whole way of thinking. The Bible has a word for that: Repent. Refusal to do so is certain self-destruction (Luke 13:3).
The world is a ball of confusion about religion. Take your pick from atheism, pantheism, deism, polytheism, monotheism; there is an “ism” to suit every taste. Deciphering the difference and deciding which is correct are our most important challenges. Nothing will affect us more. That single conclusion will impact every subsequent decision for the rest of our lives, and then comes death and judgment. It is a weighty matter.
Even within the broad category of “Christianity,” there is a multitude of options. We are encouraged to join the church of our choice, and many people do. They search out the group that most closely believes as they do with minimal adjustment required. Or they look for a particular style of worship. Their preferences become the standard. What they like is what they seek. Their religion is one of self-centered worldliness dressed in a robe. It is God-honoring in its appearance, at least to human eyes it is. However, all is not as it appears.
“These people honor Me with their lips…(Matthew 15:8).” Jesus said it, and He was not the first. The Lord communicated that very idea hundreds of years before through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). Their words certainly sounded good, but the people were wasting their time (Matt. 15:9). When detached hearts elevate human traditions to an undeserved authoritative position all of the meaning of worship is removed. There is but one authority, and the Lord’s church submits to it.
When the suffering was done, Jesus met with His disciples. The enemy had been conquered. Death was defeated. All of the power that it possessed could not hold Him, and the empty tomb proved it. The Lord emerged victorious proclaiming His exclusive authority (Matt. 28:18). He has it all. Now it is up to us to realize it and act accordingly, which is a huge responsibility.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of His authoritative word. It is a revelation of His mind that has been placed in our hands. Now we must get those ideas into our minds and lives. What an extraordinary blessing it is to be exposed to His thoughts. We have access to His innermost desires for humanity. In the past the Lord’s people have squandered that blessing. May we never be guilty of the same sin. It turned their worship into a meaningless exercise and their lives into misguided journeys. At least they were from God’s perspective, and His is the only one that counts.