“You are just a big baby…why don’t you grow up!”

“You are just a big baby…why don’t you just grow up!”  Most of us have heard or used those words with friends or others as we were growing up.  They were meant to get our attention so something would change in the way we were acting.  In my experience many of those times the charges were accurate.  I needed them.  I was acting in a way that was destroying the enjoyment and relational comradery of the people I was with.  These same issues are true in our lives today.

While Paul didn’t use that exact phrase, he did clearly infer the same thing to the church in Corinth.  It wasn’t designed to flatter but get their attention so something would change.

  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  (2)  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able,  (3)  for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?

The writer of Hebrews did the same thing.

  • Hebrews 5:12-6:1  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  (13)  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (6:1)  Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.

My wife and I have been privileged to have 4 children and 6 grandchildren (2 on the way).  We have loved every stage of our children and grandchildren’s lives.  We have also walked with many other people raising children and grandchildren.  One thing is true both naturally and spiritually. Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is why we are all called to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1, Phil 3;12-16).

Babyhood is delightful, but perpetual babyhood is deplorable.  This is true both naturally and spiritually.

What does it mean to be growing towards maturity?  A simple definition is living more of our lives responding to God and less to any other motivation (self-centeredness, flesh, culture, or the enemy).  Paul said it in the above verse “you are still fleshly…for since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly” (2 Cor 3:3).  Consistently yielding to the motivation of self-serving flesh is the sure sign of immaturity.

Self-centered immaturity is the cause of much harm in any relationship, especially among the people of God.  This is why Jesus consistently mentioned that we must deny self-centeredness in the calls to follow Him (Mt 10:37-39, 16:24-25, Mk 8:34-35, 10:21, Lk 9:23-25, 17:33, 14:27-34, Jn 12:24-26).

Three areas that reveal immaturity

  • Your inner desires: In the natural realm as you grow up you notice that your childhood toys no longer interest you. I think spiritual maturity works in a similar way. When you are growing in Christ, the world’s pleasures that are often wrapped up in things lose their appeal. At the same time, your hunger for God increases. You want to be with Him (prayer etc) and you become more motivated and sustained with making Him known. You want more of Him moving in and through your life. That desire gradually begins to overshadow all others (like Jesus said the Kingdom would do in the parable of the mustard seed Mt 13:31-32).
  • Your understanding: When you were young your understanding of the world was very limited. As you grew up you began to see the world from a broader, more mature perspective. It works the same way spiritually. As you grow you begin to see life from God’s perspective. You evaluate opportunities as well as temptations from a bigger perspective. It becomes more difficult to be pulled into things that have no real eternal value. Serving God becomes the most important thing in this life and everything else takes a back seat.
  • Self-centeredness: One of the most obvious traits of infancy and childhood is selfishness. Babies want their way and they want it now! Mature Christians are more submissive to the Lord. They become more concerned with His world than their own. They are willing to sacrifice and wait for Him.  More and more of their life source is found in Him and His world rather than their own. Instead of God existing to bless their world a mature perspective takes over and they begin to see that they exist to serve His world.

If we are going to “press on” and grow to maturity we have to be willing to put away “childish things.”  Let’s not mistake me-centered or self-help spirituality for genuine spiritual maturity lest we end up worshipping a god we make instead of the God of the Bible. Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity. Click To Tweet

People growing in maturity will progressively exhibit fruit in these 3 Biblical areas.  They are indelible characteristics of one growing in maturity.  You will notice that possessing them will enable us to walk well with others, while not possessing them will work to destroy most relationships.  Relationships are usually both the measurement and means of maturity.  Just possessing Bible knowledge isn’t maturity.  It is when that knowledge coupled in a relationship with God causes actual fruit to be produced in these areas.

Relationships are both the measurement and means of maturity.

  • The ethics of God’s love (attitudes and actions of 1 Corinthains 13:1-13).  “Patience, kindness, not jealous, no bragging, non-arrogance, does not seek its own, not easily provoked, doesn’t take into account wrongs committed against them, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but the truth bears all things (patience), endures all things, and hopes in all things.”
  • The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).  “Joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control.”
  • The mind/attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).  “Doesn’t have selfish ambition,willing to unite and walk in unity with others,  humble in mind seeing others as more important than self, doesn’t look out for its own interest but the interest of others,has a humble attitude, and is a servant.”   

To press on to maturity we must follow what Paul continues to say in Philippians 2:23-13 Work out salvation with fear and trembling (it takes effort) as we embrace God’s work in us. 

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True North: Pursuing Biblical Christianity

Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.

A dear friend, Emily Peterson recently made a plaque to hang on our wall with a Scripture on it that has been a life message for Denise, myself, and many others we have walked together with for 37 years.  God used that Scripture to start us on a journey of discovering and pursuing His design for His people.  That passage as well many others in the New Testament set us on a path towards His Kingdom and Biblical church life that we are still pursuing today.

Crafted by Emily Peterson

Acts 2:36-47…(41)  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.  (42)  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…  (46)  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,  (47)  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 A definition that stuck with us in our early days defined what we were seeing in Scripture, “Authentic Christianity is coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to a family of imperfect people who are learning to live a new life in a new way as they pursue God’s mission together.” That is still our aim and passion.

We need to be Biblically courageous

I remember a story of a leader speaking in China with several people who were part of underground churches.  He was describing the typical experience of church life in American.  One of them began to laugh and then the whole group began to laugh.  The leader was not trying to be funny and was wondering why they were laughing.  One of the Chinese members began to wave their Bible as they continued to laugh and said loudly “how did you get that from reading this book.”  What a revealing comment!

If you had only the Bible to give you definition would you be pursuing the kind of church life you are living? Unfortunately, many Christians are shopping around for a vision.  They look at what people are doing and then think I’ll take that part, I don’t like that, I would tweak that a little, or I like this about that church so I’m going to combine all these things and do it this way.  This isn’t what should guide us.  It should be about what the Scripture says.

When revelation is something from God through Scripture it isn’t about pursuing a trendy thing or a popular thing.  It is about pursuing a Biblical thing. It’s when we say “we have got to do this.” It is like Caleb at the edge of the promised land, “We must, by all means, go in and take possession of it” (Num 13:30).

These revelations become core convictions that people refuse to compromise even in the midst of difficulty and personal loss.  Some call it God’s inner compass.  It always points the same direction no matter how lost one would seem to become.  Like Paul, it is an internal heavenly vision that guides, “I have not proved disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

It is the Spirit’s inner compass.  A traditional compass points to the true north based on the magnetic north.  That is the magnetic point on the earth in which all other magnetic fields point downward.  The problem with a traditional compass is that it can be thrown off by getting close to metal objects, iron, other magnets, or even some other rocks.  External forces can cause the directions to be compromised.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  – G.K.Chesterton

Another type of compass which is more like God’s inner compass is a gyrocompass. This is the type of compass that ships have traditionally used.  A gyrocompass finds the true north from the earth’s rotation rather than one point of the magnetic north.  Its strength is that it can keep the true north even if magnetic or other material is placed near it.  It is orientated to something much bigger than itself, the earth’s rotation.  No matter what the competing external force, it keeps its true north based on the rotation of a larger sphere, the earth.

This is the type of inner compass that God wants His people to have.  Their direction is based on rotation around God’s bigger purpose.  No matter what the external or internal pressure is they hold true to clear values given by God.   Daniel and his three friends best exemplify this type of compass as they stood firm on what God had shown them even to the point of death.  The result was three moves of God in a hostile land based on their unwavering conviction (Daniel 2:1-18, 3:14-30, 6:1-28).

What are core essentials of His design in the Bible that we can’t live without? 

We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s design with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.

When God’s people receive revelation from Him it becomes vision.  It is more than just “nice to know” ideas.  We don’t want to simply be informed about God’s designs with a “that’s nice to know” perspective.  We want to be pursuing God’s design with a “we must go for it” attitude.  That is the difference between a good idea and a God-given vision.  Good ideas come with a take it or leave perspective.  Real God ideas come with a Spirit-inspired  “we must go for it” passion.

We must not allow a mentality to develop in which we believe certain things but fatalistically accept an opposite reality.  Rather we are to have a mentality that this is what we believe and therefore we must pursue it.

  • A local church is God’s family living out His relational way of life among the people as they follow Him on His mission.   A church is not a building, meeting, or an organization.  A local church is a relational way of life.  It is God’s family living out their life together following Jesus on His mission (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, 59 “one another’s” in the Epistles, 44% of the NT instruction about how to relationally walk together).
  • The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many see local churches as consumers see online or retail outlets. Churches exist to accommodate and satisfy consumers.   Biblical church commitment is not a consumer driven accessory for people’s personal dream fulfillment.  God’s people are not consumers looking for the best church deal (most benefits at the cheapest price).  We are a people who are consumed by God living out His purposes (Titus 2:1-14).
  • The Kingdom of God (Rule of Christ) is to be embraced and expressed through God’s people.  As His people submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives as well as His headship in the church (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3) His Kingdom is revealed.
  • Local church membership is comprised of disciples who follow Jesus together on His mission and seek to put into practice everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). In the gospels, Jesus says to “follow Me” 25 times.  Only 4 times He says to believe. The emphasis is clearly on following.  About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples while only 3 times it referrs to them as “Christians.”  The emphasis is on discipleship which means following and obeying Jesus.  Church members are not just an audience of people (watching stones) attending meetings who made decisions about Jesus.   Real membership is a group of disciples pursuing Him and His mission together (living stones not just watching stones).
  • God’s design is a continual and increasing Spirit-filled life with Biblical evidence.  God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18).  The pursuit of a Spirit-filled life is essential, not optional (Jn 7:37-39, Acts 1:8 etc.).
  • All the Ephesians 4 ministries are essential, not optional, in the building of local churches.  They bring increased vision, spiritual impact, and provide good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
  • The local church is governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1). This is in contrast to a one-man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who form a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus’ design is for leaders to walk together in a family/team relationship similar to the relationship among the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
  • God desires trans-local Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family team (Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18, 2 Tim 4:1-23, Phil 4:1-23). They walk together as a family and their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
  • The missionary call to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places.  It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean (Jn 17:23, 20:21).  In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10 He sends them out in pairs and the others they are joined to are able to follow them into the work.
  • God desires praise and worship that is heartfelt, Spirit-filled, and according to His truth (Jn 4:23-24) with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting seen 265 times in Scripture, playing musical instruments 58 times, singing 29 times, lifting our hands 14 times, clapping 12 times, bowing or kneeling 12 times, dancing 9 times, and standing 7 times.
  • God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while at the same time we reach forward.  We want to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
  • Biblical “ministry” is not about gifted people on platforms in corporate meetings.  Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God-given talents and Spiritual gifts to build up the family of God everyday to reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).

Like the apostle Paul said, “not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12).  We are to continue to reach for God’s ideal with those joined together by God.  We have tasted many of these things in part, and are far from perfect, but like the song Shekinah Glory we want more,  “you move and we want more, You speak and we want more…more of Your fullness.”

 

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God’s Answer to a Culture Starving for Community and Connectedness

There is something in the human race that needs and seeks connectivity with a community.  That desire originated in creation.  God said, “Let US make man in OUR IMAGE and OUR LIKENESS” (Genesis 1:26-28).  The US and OUR were the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who had been living in perfect family/community forever.  Man was designed with THEIR image and likeness, part of which is family/community.  The only thing in the Garden of Eden that God said “it is not good” was “for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

Facebook To The Rescue

Isn’t it interesting that in the 80’s the seeker-friendly movement helped churches run more like corporations in order to attract people.  Now corporations like Facebook are seeking to operate like churches. 

On June 22, 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, spoke at the inaugural Communities Summit in Chicago.  He spoke of Facebook’s goal to bring greater connectivity to people that they once found in groups like churches and little league teams.  He identified the decline of community, connectivity, and support in groups like churches.  His goal is to use Facebook to fill in the gaps.   He made some very good points that should challenge God’s people in both their identity and mission.

Can he help provide what the church used to provide?

Some of his points were as follows, “It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.  People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

Zuckerberg suggests that Facebook can help fill those gaps using it’s networking power to organize, “We started a project to see if we could get better at suggesting groups that will be meaningful to you. We started building artificial intelligence to do this. And it works. In the first 6 months, we helped 50% more people join meaningful communities.”  Some took his message as an attempt to replace churches or other organizations, but for sure he is seeing the gap in churches and is ready with Facebook to continue to improve in filling it.

Enigma in social media and connectedness

A lot of researchers are troubled by an enigma that is accompanying the rise of social media (which tends to challenge Zuckerberg’s ideas).  It seems that while we are more socially connected online with sites like Facebok, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and  Reddit at the same time we are more socially isolated.  As a matter of fact, online connectedness without physical connectedness can tend to increase feelings of aloneness.  Research over the past 5+ years seems to confirm this.

Google the phrase Facebook isolation and 83,100,000 results will appear.  Google Facebook depression and you will get 91,900,000 hits.  These feelings of aloneness and isolation have corresponding effects on depression and suicide.   Aaron Kheriaty director of the Medical Ethics Program at Cal-Irvine writes in First Things (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/08/dying-of-despair), “the suicide crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions. Rates are growing coast to coast, in rural and urban areas, among the poor and the rich, the young and the old. What in the world is going on, and what do we do about it?”

While many factors are listed as causes of depression and suicide such as social fragmentation and an overall decrease in religious involvement, Kheriatly boils the problem down to despair.  Kheriaty also notes from research that, “prayer, religious faith, participation in a religious community, and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression [and], lower the risk of suicide… One study of 89,000 people showed that those ‘who attend any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide’ than those who don’t.”  It highlights the component of real, not just online connectedness with faith communities.

Important revelation and reaffirmation of the call on the church 

God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance.  The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community

These trends and revelations show us something important for the church.  God can heal depression and mental illness and it may need medical or psychological assistance.  The aloneness and isolation that often contributes to it can be helped by God’s people living in His design for real community.  As we do we show the world a light that is found in Christ and among His people.  Matthew 5:13-16  “You are the salt of the earth… (14)  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  (15)  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  (16)  “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house!   Ps 68:6 “God makes a home for the lonely in His house.”  

Aloneness is curable!  God confirmed the need to cure aloneness, and He showed us how to do it at creation.  The only thing in His creation order that He said was “not good” was “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).  God then moved to begin the process to cure it, the creation of His family.

Jesus echoed this by revealing His design and cure for aloneness in His church.  Mark 10:29-30  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,  (30)  but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.

Jesus obviously knew what the Psalmist said about God’s house centuries earlier.  Psalms 68:5-6  A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.  (6)  God makes a home for the lonely.

God’s people need to stand up (on their everyday mission trips), wave their arms, and say “over here, come here, join us, Jesus has a family you can be part of!”  The cure for aloneness is in Jesus and among His people!  Like Andrew we need to bring people to Jesus (Jn 1:41-43), who will lift their despair, “come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and you will find rest in your soul” (Mt 11:28), and to His family were aloneness is healed (Ps 68:6).

The church’s call

We can’t fulfill this call by simply going to church.   Instead, we must be the church every day and everywhere we are.  When Jesus says, “Come follow me,” He isn’t calling us to start a class or offer a program but to follow Him and open our hearts to others.

Aloneness is curable in Jesus and His house! Click To Tweet

Practical ways to help call people out of loneliness through Jesus.

  1. Welcome everyone you meet. Jesus welcomed strangers and marginalized people (Luke 19:1-10). In the same way that Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” and worthy of Jesus’ time, the marginalized and lonely people that you interact with are loved by God and worthy of your time too. Extend a kind word to everyone you meet, but also seek ways to share your time, energy and life with them.
  2. Engage people.We are not just inviting people to programs or services (Rom 12:13-20). It is a personal connection we offer.
  3. Consider ways to share meals/hospitality. In the whole gospel of Luke, Jesus is either at a meal, going to a meal, or just finishing a meal.  In Biblical culture, meals were the main means of interacting and showing hospitality.
  4. Pay attention. Jesus told the disciples as they were busy serving Him, “lift up your eyes and look on the fields they are white with harvest” (Jn 4:35). An uplifting word or kind action may begin a process of God to change a life.  We have to look at people in order to see them.

Online connections can help but they cannot replace the real thing.

 

 

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