Facing Our Spiritual Immaturity

The writer to the Hebrews instructs the church to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrew 13:17). This is an awesome charge, NOT to the leaders, but to the people. While the leaders have charge over the souls of God’s people (which is intimidatingly awesome to say the least) the writer tells the people that it is their responsibility to not cause grief to their spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders teach, guide, instruct, challenge, protect, admonish, comfort, and yes, rebuke and discipline when it is needed. It is not an authority thing, or a superiority issue, but God says there are benefits in people cooperating with their leaders. As people catch vision, discover their places of service and ministry, live out their faith in a lost and dying world, leading people ought to be a joy, not full of grief.

So, this message is from a heart of love and compassion, to help us and to challenge us all to become the people of God that the Lord desires for us to be.

From the Hebrews 5 passage today, the consequences of not being all-in for God, is spiritual immaturity. And let’s admit it, we often desire to remain immature, probably so that we are not obligated to work, or to serve, or get connected, or talk about our faith, or lead people to Jesus, or teach preschoolers or children… just fill in the blank with whatever you fear that God would ask you to do for his kingdom.

How many of us would admit that we have told God, “Give me enough of Jesus to escape hell, but not so much that would move me toward actually BEING the hands and feet of Jesus in the church or the community.”

After a long discussion about the priesthood of Christ being superior to that of the earthly priests in the line of Aaron (Hebrews 5:1-10), we get to our focal passage today. Here the writer deviates from his theological presentation to address to the people of the church… and in addressing them, he addresses us.

This is a practical section on how to move away from spiritual immaturity and toward spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14), but first, everyone needs to take an inventory of their spiritual progress. If you recognize your spiritual immaturity, you may be have-way there. But let’s NOT stay there. Using this spiritual inventory, we will see that it is so important to know where you ARE before you can get where you want to GO.

What about the people reading this letter? They needed to face their spiritual immaturity… and so do we. The first thing I want to point out is that…

They had a MENTAL problem, they were dull of hearing. Dullness in hearing is definitely a sign of spiritual immaturity. Let’s read again Hebrews 5:11 – Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. Let’s recap through the book of Hebrews and discover their backward journey…

First, they were drifting from the Word (Hebrews 2:1-3a) – For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Next, they were doubting the Word (Hebrews 3:7-4:13) – 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end… 4:11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. How will anyone have an evil, unbelieving heart? They doubt the Word of God and embrace the deceitfulness of sin.

Now, they were dull of hearing the Word of God, which manifested itself by being unable to listen to God’s Word, receive the Word, or even act on the Word. They were not like the people in Thessalonica where Paul writes about them, “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Face it; one of the first steps backward toward spiritual immaturity and complacency is that we develop a dullness toward the Bible and the things of God.

  • The Sunday School class is dull.
  • The lesson is dull.
  • The preacher and his sermons are dull.
  • All this church stuff is always dull, or to use the word of the day, BORING.

But let me submit to you that it is not the Sunday School teacher, not the preacher, or anything else, but the problem resides within the attender himself, because when you encounter the living God, it is anything but dull.

The fact is, you get out of a service or a Bible study exactly what you expect from it or what you put into it. Worship becomes “all about me” when I tell myself or someone else about how the choir special didn’t speak to me, or that the preacher’s message was irrelevant to my life.

How often do we drive to church having LITTLE or NO preparation to encounter the living God? We hurriedly strut into God’s presence with an attitude of, “bless me, wow me, God must surely be happy that I’m here today, this service better not go past 12:00, I hope no one comes forward to get saved because that will delay my lunch, I’m not going to respond to the invitation and commitment time because THAT is for other people, because me and God are just fine.”

So, people were dull of hearing, which indicated they had a MENTAL problem. I also challenge you to see that…

They had a MORAL problem, they refused to be teachers. Face it, the inability to share God’s truth with other people is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12a says, “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.” The word, “ought” indicates an obligation, and since it was their DUTY to teach others, their failure to do so became a moral problem.

I understand that not all believers have the gift of teaching, but we ALL can tell someone else about what we learned in the Bible, or what God has taught us by reading the Bible.

I find it interesting that the very first real problem we discover in a child is the inability to share with other people? NOT sharing is certainly a sign of childishness and immaturity.

Those who were the recipients of this letter should have been teaching others by now. But instead of helping others to grow in their knowledge of and love for God, they were in need of going over and over again the elementary principles of the Christian life. They wanted to stay in the shallow end of the pool, never desiring to launch into the deep end of spiritual truth and understanding.

If you want to get out of the kiddie pool or out of your second childhood, then learn to teach others, learn to share the Word of God with other people. It takes a little practice to be good at it, but you have to get started and keep moving forward.

Teach in your own Sunday School class; ask for an opportunity to lead a lesson one week, be a substitute once a month.

Tell Connie or Karen that you want to invest your life into the next generation, leaving a legacy of faith to the children in our congregation. You can sign up for every other month in a 9:45 Sunday School class or even once a month working with preschoolers at 11:00.

Think about all the needs we have in our children’s and our preschool departments. If everyone would simply commit to helping out every once in a while, we will share the load, and those who have been serving faithfully for years won’t burn out. People can still be a part of an adult class on a regular basis.

I’ve heard a few stories from older members who founded and established this church, that “we have put in our time, and it’s time for the 30-somethings and 40-somethings to step up…” There IS something to be said for that.

I know that many people in this room have taught for years and faithfully served for so long, but is it EVER true that you can retire from teaching others the Word of God?

Some people may not be physically able to serve like they used to and that’s OK. Maybe your strength doesn’t allow you to securely hold babies anymore, or your knees won’t let you to get on the floor with toddlers.

But I challenge you all to look around the room and see all of the able-bodied believers who could step up to the meet needs of others and share what they have and what they know with others.

After looking around, make sure you also look in the mirror. What is holding YOU back? Knowledge? Apathy? Education? The fear of tough questions? Very few people attended seminary so you can’t simply leave it all to the pastor or staff. The CHURCH is charged with the gospel, that ALL of US, ordinary followers of Jesus allowing the Holy Spirit to use us as he sees fit.

Remember that the Word of God was translated into the vernacular (the common language) so that God’s Word would be in the hands of everyday common people. No longer would God’s Word be only for an elite few (like pastors and priests) who understood Latin, or New Testament Greek. The Bible is for the PEOPLE to read, and then people are unleashed to read, serve, teach, witness, and share about God and what he has done for us all.

Let me put in a good word about small groups and teaching: I would much rather have servant-leaders who have a heart for a small group of people, than those who just teach the Bible without exercising care and concern for their flock.

Fortunately, King’s Grant has a bunch of people serving in our discipleship ministry who do BOTH very well. But the fact is, we will not, and cannot grow to the next level without the body of Christ stepping up and doing what it takes to serve and teach others. We cannot let our faith or discipleship be a “one-hour-on-Sunday” experience.

So, not only did these people in the book of Hebrews have a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and have a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others)…

They had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem: They preferred their “baby food” diet by continuing to feed on “milk” rather than “meat,” which is another sign of their spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:12b-13 says, “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.” These people were still babies.

I believe that spiritual infancy is nurtured by religious ritual. I say this because the nation of Israel would be considered to be in the infancy stage of Christianity. The old covenant has passed away and the new covenant was brought through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the nursery is left behind. They made no spiritual progress because they were tied to the apron strings of a ritualistic religious system.

Perhaps the ritualistic system today is what I call “drive by church.” Many people say, “I’ll just attend, but have no plans on getting involved, or investing my life into others, or allowing others to invest their lives into me.” For many people, Christmas and Easter are all they desire of the things of God, and this may be the ultimate in a ritualistic mindset.

Let’s talk about the “milk” and “meat” for a moment:

  • “Milk” is considered to be the first or elementary principles of God, which would include the teachings about the earthly ministry of Jesus: his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, burial, resurrection.
  • “Meat” would be the teachings about the ministry of Jesus RIGHT NOW in heaven as our high priest.

Even the most mature believer still drinks milk, we enjoy and are challenged by the teachings of Jesus while he was on earth. But we must not stop there. We must include what we call theology. How does all of this fit together? How is Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament? How can I apply this teaching in today’s world?

So, these people had a MENTAL problem, (they were dull of hearing the Word of God); and had a MORAL problem, (they refused to do their duty and teach God’s word to others); they also had a DEVELOPMENTAL problem (preferring spiritual milk rather than meat); and finally, we come to the last mark of spiritual immaturity…

They had a DISCERNMENT problem: They were unskilled in using God’s Word, because as we grow in spirituality and knowledge of God’s Word, we must learn to apply it in everyday life. Hebrews 5:14 tells us, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

When we APPLY the Word of God, we develop our spiritual senses and exercise discernment. Little children lack such discernment; think about it, a baby will put anything in its mouth, food, bugs, dirt, rocks, moth balls, a soiled diaper.

So, what does that means for an immature believer? He or she will listen to ANY preacher on the TV, radio, or podcast and not be able to discern truth from error.

Discerning good and evil are a part of the Christian life, and those reading this letter to the Hebrews were in danger of making a terrible mistake. Just as Israel failed to discern God’s leadership, their failure caused them to go backwards and wander aimlessly through the wilderness. They were unable to enter into God’s rest.

Hebrew 4:11 says, “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Wow, it’s time to draw this to a close. How do we make this message practical? Let me tell you a story.

Imagine a football team, fired up, the cheering crowds, with pep rally fever pitch, and now the team is running out to the huddle. They gather to hear the play, break, and then run back to the bench. This happens several times, and the crowd begins to wonder what’s going on. This is a great picture of today’s American church. We run out on the field, huddle, hear the pastor’s plays, he tells us what we need to do, we all agree, then break, we run back to the sidelines. Imagine the church actually running the plays, and making a difference. (from Francis Chan, The Forgotten God)

It’s time to face your spiritual immaturity and you MUST conduct a proper evaluation of where you are before you look ahead to where you want to be. Check your bulletin outline and look at those questions at the bottom.

  1. How would you describe your level of spiritual maturity?
  2. How have you grown since you first came to faith in Christ?
  3. For what decisions do you need a little extra discernment?
  4. Of what does your spiritual diet consist?
  5. How can you become more useful to God and his kingdom?
  6. What will you plan to do to become more mature in your relationship with Christ?
  7. What will you change in your daily and weekly routine to combat spiritual immaturity and laziness?
  8. Where will you volunteer to make an impact on others? It’s time to get out of the huddle and run some plays!

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Why Have a Connection Class?

Choosing to Join King’s Grant Baptist Church is an important decision. People today will wonder in and out of our services without ever understanding how important church membership is unless pastors and leaders help them understand that, but also properly shepherd them through the process of joining. I include church leaders because the pastor cannot do it alone.

According to LifeWay research, 64% of churches either have nothing to assimilate new members, or no systemic plan to move people towards membership. This is why I offer the Connection Class several times throughout the year.

Connection Classes Help Guard the Purity of the Church: In our culture the statement “I am a Christian” can mean different things to different people, so it is important to make sure that everyone desiring membership in our church understands and believes the gospel. During a class we might find some people have never heard the gospel clearly articulated even if they grew up in church. So, it is so helpful to talk about the “secrets of being a healthy and happy church member.” The key to health and happiness in church membership is understanding salvation. It is so good to hear someone’s testimony along with presenting a basic gospel presentation before they join our church. Our Connection class provides church the opportunity to explain the gospel clearly.

Connection Classes Help People Understand the Church: These classes help people in the church to be “on the same page.” I believe that a prospective member should know what the church believes on essential and non-essential doctrines, the meaning of church ordinances, how a church works, and how it makes decisions, with who we associate and partner, lifestyle beliefs. We also spend time communicating the church vision, core values, and explain its ministry philosophy can be an important aspect of helping someone make the decision to join the church. Teaching these things can also help new people learn what they can expect from the church leaders, processes, and its ministries, and what the congregation can expect out of them.

Connection Classes Help People Plug In to Serve the Church: We need to provide an effective environment to plug people into serving in our church. All members have certain gifts and abilities that can be used in serving God and others through the church. When someone first joins, it can be difficult to figure out where to get involved. We cannot assume that a new member will automatically want to get involved in ministry and will know how to do so. In our Connection Class, people learn that the congregation expects them to get involved, and learn of entry level opportunities for service.

Connection Classes Help Guard the Unity of the Church: When a church emphasizes membership expectations, we are able to raise the bar of membership. While a scary thing, we also should talk about what would happen if church members did not live up to membership expectations. Clarity in the Connection Class goes a long way in setting the church member on the right path. This information can serve to preempt potential church discipline issues later on.

Connection Classes Help People Assimilate Into the Church: We see the class as an opportunity to encourage regular attendees to get to know other potential members of the church, as well as leaders in the church. While the primary purposes of the Connection Class is for church orientation and teaching doctrine, mission, values, and vision, this relational orientation to church leaders is a very positive thing.

The writers of the New Testament assumed that the local churches to whom they were writing had a clear understanding of who was a member of the church and who was not (1 Corinthians 5:2; Colossians 4:5; Galatians 6:10). The Connection Class is one of the most effective ways to examine, assimilate, and clearly guide new members into our church family.

[print_link] [email_link] Adapted from Matt Capps, and Ministry Grid

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Why Does a Church Decline?

Why is it that churches tend to slip into decline? A vibrant and growing ministry becomes “plateaued” or begins to lose the numbers or excitement it once had. How about these steps to find a solution:

1. Return to Your First Passion (Revelation 2:4-5) – But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.

Churches don’t realize how far they have fallen, then “church” simply becomes routine, going through the motions, and going into maintenance mode. If we will only remember the first days of our relationship with Christ, the excitement, the purpose, the mission, the commands, the new insights; perhaps we will be restored to our earlier fellowship, and make an impact on our community and others around us. The key in this passage is a single word… REPENT. While that is so humiliating, (to admit that we have fallen away, or drifted), that is the solution the angel provides through the apostle John.

2. Remember Your Foundational Purpose (Matthew 28:19-20) – Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This passage talks a lot about mission and purpose; we are to be about our Father’s business of evangelism and discipleship. How often do we begin to cool in our desire for God’s kingdom to increase?

I recently read Brian Moss* who writes, “Churches plateau and decline due to missional drift.” I cannot think of any church that ever drifted and kept the main thing the main thing. In order to get the church moving in the right direction we’ve got to figure out which direction we need to go! Moss again writes, “Too often plateaued churches focus on growing the church numerically before they correct the drift philosophically. If you focus on growth before depth you’ll be tempted to adopt gimmicks, quick fixes and copycat tactics. Don’t change anything until your core leaders are thoroughly committed to the biblical purposes of the church.”

The Great Commandment is essential as well; to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). These are the reasons for worship and ministry. We worship due to our love for God and we are involved in ministry because of our love for others. Let’s rekindle our focus on the primary purpose of the church, to know Christ and to make him known.

3. Refocus on Your Favorite People: by “favorite” I mean your target audience.

Moss writes about his church experience: “Our church was hidden in the woods at the end of a dead-end road completely surrounded by an upper-income housing development. Our congregation was comprised of medium income families. We tried for months to reach the families in the homes surrounding our church. It was a complete failure. Finally, we decided to try reaching people like us. We learned the hard way that you reach who you are, not who you want.”

That sounds a lot like our situation, high income and powerful people in the neighborhood north of the church property. We are a congregation that has a good number of these types families, but we also have plenty of average income families, young and old, and a fair amount of transitioning young Navy families. Perhaps we have a schizophrenic personality, not knowing who we are, but we CAN reach people like us; each group reaching out to their own circles of influence.

That, my friend is relational, and I feel is the beginning of effective evangelism and discipleship.

[print_link] [email_link] *Brian Moss is pastor at Oak Ridge Baptist, Salisbury MD

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The Body of Christ

God has chosen to speak also through his people, the gathered body of Christ. A problem of the evangelical church is that we have emphasized the priesthood of the believer so much that we have lost our corporate identity as the church. Christians think that can stand alone before God and are not accountable to the church (other believers). Remember that Jesus died for the church (Matthew 16:18). Check out how the church is described in the New Testament:

  1. Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  2. Jesus is the head (Ephesians 4:15)
  3. Every believer is placed in the body as the Spirit chooses (1 Corinthians 12:18)
  4. The Spirit manifests, or works through each person in the body as he chooses for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  5. The body is fitted together by the Father.
  6. The members are enabled and equipped to function where the Father has placed them in the body (Ephesians 4:13)

God has made us mutually interdependent. Paul was constantly requesting the believers to become vitally involved with his life and ministry. The effectiveness of Paul’s ministry rested on THEM (Colossians 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, Ephesians 6:19).

The point is that apart from the body of Christ, you cannot fully know God’s will for your relationship to the body. God can and does speak through the church. There are many needs in the church, and the need itself does not constitute a call to meet that need, but the need however is NOT to be ignored.

There are no lone ranger Christians, we are connected to one another in bond of love, salvation and mission. The individual believer is not the church; the church is the body of Christ gathered. Every member is to listen to what the other members are saying, because others will help me to understand God’s will.

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Why Guests Don’t Return

I recently read about ten ways to ensure guest DON’T return to our church, (written in the first person):

  1. Offer no easy way to plug in to community: Don’t tell me about small groups. Make me wait forever to plug in, or make me do extensive work to even figure out what kind of groups you offer.
  2. Don’t welcome me in the parking lot: Just do your job, don’t speak to me as I walk in, and offer a bit of an “it-is-early-on-a-Sunday-morning” scowl.
  3. Don’t acknowledge I’m in the service: Give no head nod to “first timers,” “guests,” or “folks just checking us out.” In fact, just speak to the inner core, the “members.”
  4. Acknowledge me too much: Call me out and have me stand up. Ask me to publicly share my name and darkest secrets.
  5. Don’t give much thought or care to your kids’ ministry: People don’t care if their children are safe, watched after, and learn the Bible. Nope. Let them run amuck.
  6. Pass the offering plate twice: Or three times, and shame me into giving you money.
  7. Don’t share the gospel or challenge me spiritually: Because that’s not why people come to church, is it to be stretched to grow spiritually, is it? Oh, wait, maybe that’s one of the main reasons they show up.
  8. Ask me to give my e-mail address, then spam me: Overwhelm me, starting on Monday morning, with news from every single ministry your church has ever offered.
  9. Visit me at home: Show up during dinner time, if you can, or while I’m trying to put my son to bed. That would be ideal, please. Our generation loves the random church-member pop-in when we aren’t even sure we like your church.
  10. Pastor, disappear as soon as you finish preaching: Go back to the greenroom, or Starbucks. But don’t position yourself in the hallway. You are a diva, after all.

If you want visitors to return, be warm and inviting. Challenge people to grow. Offer various opportunities to plug in and serve. Then get out of the way and give people the chance to explore.

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Marks of a Healthy Small Group

Last year I read a book by Chuck Swindoll called, The Church Awakening. It is a great read and I will one day write about many of those insights. Acts chapter two is the platform for a lot of what we understand about the first church. Today I’m thinking about small groups in the church, so here are seven marks of a healthy small group, based on Acts 2:42-47.

1. Healthy Small Groups Study the Bible: Small groups in the New Testament studied the Bible together. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …” Of course, we know the teaching of the apostles is what we call the New Testament today. They lived in an oral culture but they were still studying lessons from the apostles.

I have recently discussed with Skip the possibility of publishing Talking Points or Points to Ponder to further get into the Bible. These pages can be distributed, printed out and used by small groups during the week. These will include questions related to the Scriptures and sermon they heard on Sunday with additional verses to consider.

The idea is for people to focus on one Bible truth at a time. People can handle only so many new truth units each week (like a truth from the sermon, one from the Sunday School lesson, one from a devotional). Too often we teach too much. If someone goes to church whenever the doors are open, they can end up with perhaps a dozen different Bible truths. You may be thinking, “My life can’t change that much” so let me focus on a truth that supports the largest church activity, worship.

2. Healthy Small Groups Share Life Together: The book of Acts says the early believers were devoted to fellowship (Acts 2:42), which means they were serious about their friendships. Notice the Bible says they were devoted to the fellowship, not just to fellowship. In other words, fellowship is not just something the church does; we are the fellowship.

Jesus calls us to be committed to one another (I’ll post something about all the “one another” verses at a later date). It is through small groups that we learn the skills of relationship. Small groups are laboratories of love, where we learn to obey the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

3. Healthy Small Groups Remember Jesus Together: The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The “breaking of bread” in this passage specifically refers to the Lord’s Supper or Communion. In the early Church, they did not take Communion in a large worship setting. They served it in small groups. Communion is only for believers, so a small group setting helps make sure only believers will take part.

4. Healthy Small Groups Pray Together: The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42). Jesus taught that there is a power to prayers spoken aloud for each other, and he made an incredible promise about small groups of believers: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). In the intimacy and confidentiality of small groups, we can pray for each other as we share our hurts, reveal our feelings, confess our failures, disclose our doubts, admit our fears, acknowledge our weaknesses, and ask for help.

5. Healthy Small Groups are Generous: The Bible says these small groups gave “to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45). Small groups allow us to help each other with practical needs. Can I loan you a car? Can I provide you with some meals when you are sick? We tend to centralize ministries, creating a food pantry or a counseling center, but this wasn’t the New Testament model. The early Church had decentralized ministries, getting the help directly to where the needs are.

6. Healthy Small Groups Worship Together: The Bible says the New Testament small groups worshiped together, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). We need to worship God more than once a week, and small groups offer an opportunity to worship together.

7. Healthy small groups witness together: As these small groups met together, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They were inviting others to join them. One of the proofs of a healthy small group is that it reproduces for two reasons: so a small group may add members, and so a small group may also birth (or help start) another small group.

Small groups can be creative in outreach. Rick Warren tells of a story where one small group pooled their money and bought season tickets for the San Diego Chargers (for everyone in the group, but they also bought some extra tickets). They go together to each game, but they also use the extra tickets to invite others to come with the group. They don’t start a Bible study at the game; they just have fun, but that allows them to say, “This same group meets on Tuesday nights for Bible study. Would you like to join us?”

At King’s Grant we have no rooms to start new classes, so we are now forced to get creative. I can’t wait to see where God will lead us as we get back to the basics of small groups meeting outside of our 9:45 Sunday School hour.

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The Son of a Pharisee

It’s probably a verse you have come to know over the course of your Christian life. We quote it around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and use it to remind parents of their responsibility to raise godly children; it does not happen just because we take our kids to church.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

For the parents of the apostle Paul, these were not simply words of a short verse worth memorizing; they were the foundation of family life. In a Jewish home, it was not the job of the mother to teach spiritual things to the kids, it was the father’s responsibility, who learned it from his own father.

Philippians 3:5 tells us a bit of Paul’s early childhood: circumcised on the eighth day, a part of the children of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, and even a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” The readers understood that Paul meant nothing but Jewish influence surrounded him in those early years.

The Code of Jewish Law states that “it is the duty of every father to train his children in the practice of all the precepts, whether biblical or rabbinical” and “to guard his children against any forbidden act.” Paul’s father took this responsibility very seriously.

Looking back through New Testament eyes, we tend to put Pharisees in a negative light, since Jesus had so much conflict with them and they ultimately schemed the crucifixion of Christ, but in the first century the Pharisees held a position of great honor. I wonder if Paul spoke from experience when he penned the words to the Ephesian church that fathers must not exasperate their children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

The Jewish historian Josephus (under contract with the Roman Empire) wrote the Jews lay greater stress on the training of children than on anything else; as one of the most important duties.

Being a Hebrew was not just about religion, or a way of life, but it defined who you were, how you thought and how you felt about life. It affected how you dressed (even the wearing of phylacteries – Exodus 13:9) to what you celebrated (the regular ritual and feasts).

So men, has there been a time in your life when you delegated the task of spiritual instruction to your wife, thinking that religious stuff was for women, or raising the kids is primarily woman’s work? I challenge you to make sure you rethink that position and learn from the life of Paul that religious instruction is the father’s role in the family. There is a phrase that should haunt each of us, “Like father, like son.”

While I don’t want to discount a miracle of God working in our kids lives, but how can we expect our children to mysteriously be right with God one day, or stand up for godly principles, if we ourselves are not right with God? We must model what a relationship with God is all about and train our kids in the way they should go. They might choose another path later on, but it won’t be for a lack of instruction on the father’s part when they were young.

So, what do you need to do to better model what a relationship with Jesus is all about? How well do you know the Bible and the teachings of Christ? Can you pass on the stories and teachings at appropriate times throughout the day, helping your kids know that Christianity is not just something we do on Sundays? Can you quote Scripture in front of your kids, and challenge them to memorize verses as well? How can you relate the teaching of the Bible to the struggles and situations in their daily lives? Have you set up a time each day to read Scripture, a devotional thought and pray? It’s never too late to get on the right path.

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What Defines You as a Believer?

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church to help instruct the new church on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One topic he addressed is the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For whatever reason, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ. Take a look at this passage:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

One of the central factors for their disunity in Corinth was the tendency of these new and therefore immature believers to bring into the church elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For instance, in their previous “pagan” experience they were led into “religious mysteries” by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They strongly identified with this mentor as their doorway into “the divine.” For others, certain Corinthian converts may have studied with a certain philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. So it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. But they must have been extremists because they seemed to define themselves in terms of the old human mentoring relationship, which was threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.

Are we so much unlike them? For some people, denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, it is our theological position or perhaps the teaching of our favorite theologian. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are harmful when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I let my identity as a Baptist become so elevated that it threatens my relationship with Methodists or Presbyterians, then I am falling into the same Corinthian trap. We have our theological differences based on interpretation of Scripture, but our identity in Christ brings unity. My identity as a Christian is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.

On Facebook, they give the opportunity to display one’s religious preference. On questionnaires there may be a question asking the same. How often do people use the word “Christian” when asked their religious preference, rather than Catholic, Baptist, or nondenominational?

How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in Jesus differ theologically?

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We Are Iron Men

People love superheroes, and this season brings back a long awaited sequel, Iron Man 2. This is easily one of the most anticipated sequels of all time, and Tony Stark is back and badder than ever.

Before becoming Iron Man, millionaire playboy/inventor Tony Stark simply cruised casinos, consumed alcohol and amassed sexual conquests as wildly as James Bond. Unlike 007, however, he didn’t stop warlords; he armed them. That is until a missile demonstration ended with Stark’s capture by a murderous Middle Eastern dissident who ordered him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He escaped by using the materials to make tricked-out battle armor. In the process, Stark had the Marvel Comics equivalent of a Damascus Road experience. He repented of his past and pledged to help the very people he’d been hurting, aided by a novel power source and high-tech exoskeleton that conforms to his body Transformers-style.

Something else about Iron Man’s unique origin story makes it special: No radioactive spider bite. No exposure to gamma rays. Stark wasn’t accidentally endowed with new skills. Rather, his heroic journey mirrors an arrogant sinner coming to grips with his own depravity, choosing to change and battle the forces of darkness.

The movie is full of cool gadgets, sarcastic humor, mega-explosions and special effects everywhere. I would just about give my right arm to suit up and dominate evil dudes in Iron Man fashion.

Obviously that is not going to happen, but there is an armored suit available to Christians that in many ways provides the same protection and weaponry, one that lights up the spiritual world like Stark in a village full of terrorists. Here is the description of the conflict we face:

    1. Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11)
    2. Defending against the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:11)
    3. The real struggle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12)

      The war that Paul describes here is not against earthly terrorists, communists, or anything that is flesh and blood. This conflict is in the spiritual realm – and it is not for the weak or the wimpy. Every day the unseen forces of Satan and his army are arrayed against you. They are firing off the missiles of deception, discouragement, temptation, and opposition, so you’ll give up the battle and your calling.

      We need to make sure that we are properly fitted with this suit from the closet of your soul, so let me walk through the steps that Paul gave us:

      1. First, put on the belt of truth – which means speaking/ living truthfully and with integrity (Ephesians 6:12).
      2. Next, position the breastplate of righteousness – which is living in obedience to God’s will and his Word because He has completely forgiven you (Ephesians 6:14).
      3. Don’t forget the boots of readiness – which is a willingness to share the gospel message with anyone, anywhere, anytime (Ephesians 6:15).
      4. Raise up the shield of faith – which is hiding behind the promises of God when Satan sends a onslaught of lies and temptations your way (Ephesians 6:16).
      5. Protect your mind with the helmet of salvation – which is a constant remembrance that the penalty and power of sin is broken in your life, so don’t believe the negative messages from the devil that you are guilty and worthless (Ephesians 6:17).
      6. Finally, be sure and draw the sword of the Spirit – which is God’s Word (Ephesians 6:17).
      7. Along with prayer (Ephesians 6:18), this is your offensive weapon to strike the heart of the enemy with incredible force. So powerful in fact, that this is the result:

      We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

      Picture an army of believers who are protected with the very armor of God and armed with His living Word. God uses this mighty force to stop spiritual terrorism and start a revolution for His cause – making disciples who make disciples!

      We are Men of Steel, and we can choose to be Iron Men, choosing to leave the old life behind, and make ourselves battle-ready for the sake of God’s kingdom. Suit up and make a difference.

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      Do You Love God Enough?

      My Sunday morning Bible study is taking a fresh look at Peter and how his life often mirrors our own at various times in life. This week we are looking at the denials during of Peter on that dreadful Good Friday, and the restoration that took place after the resurrection.

      BTW, have you ever considered why that day is called “Good Friday,” knowing what happened to Jesus, the crucifixion and all? Long ago I saw a B.C. cartoon that put is perfectly. BC and Grog were pondering the meaning of the term: “Why do you call Good Friday, “good” — a term oft misunderstood. You who were saved by the blood of his cross — you can call Good Friday good.”

      There are important times in our lives when we either stand up for what we believe or cave in to the pressure around us. Peter saw himself as the kind of man who stands firm, but he overestimated his commitment on at least one occasion where he denied even knowing Jesus.

      Though there is often a heavy price to pay for being uncompromising about our faith, the price of caving in is heavier. The good news is that even when we fail, God doesn’t give up on us. In fact, those who fail are exactly the kind of people Jesus came to redeem and restore.

      Pledge: Matthew 26:17-35
      The disciples were as human as anyone, and one night they got proud and jealous. When Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if everyone else in the room did, he probably didn’t cultivate many warm, fuzzy feelings among the disciples. In fact, the text implies he was saying he was more faithful than the other disciples, which was likely quite offensive.

      Peter could have simply said, “I will never forsake you,” but he didn’t. He compared himself with all the others and affirmed that he would be the strongest and most faithful of the disciples. As Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And Peter would soon land hard.

      In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter quotes an Old Testament passage about God opposing the proud but giving grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34). He then urges his readers to humble themselves under God’s hand in order that they might be lifted up at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).

      1. In what ways did Peter experience the realities of this passage? In what ways have you?
      2. How have you seen spiritual pride manifested in Christianity in general? In our church? In your life?

      Denial: Luke 22:54-62
      In a time of trouble and fear, Simon the Rock denies ever knowing Jesus, three times. Fear of people’s opinions or their swords tend to do that. It diminishes God’s power and messes with our perspective, and then makes us unwise.

      Luke records an interesting detail of Peter’s three denials. When the rooster crowed, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Remember the first time Jesus gazed at Peter was when they first met (John 1:42) when followers were gathering around this Messiah. Jesus saw Peter’s potential underneath his rough exterior and called him a rock. Now, on a cold night years later, as disciples are scattering and abandoning this Messiah, Jesus again gazes into Peter’s soul. And Peter leaves and weeps bitterly (Luke 22:62).

      1. If Jesus stood before you right now and gazed into your eyes, what do you think he would see?
      2. Knowing that your heart is laid completely bare before him, how would you feel about being in his presence? Why?

      Restoration: Mark 16:7; 1 Corinthians 15:5; John 21:15-17
      Peter’s denial of Jesus was dramatic and devastating. Perhaps more than any other disciple besides Judas, he failed. Not only did he abandon Jesus in a crisis moment, he vocally disowned him. His confidence in his complete faithfulness had proven unfounded.

      In at least three instances, Scripture provides a glimpse of God’s mercy toward Peter after his failure.

      First, there is a small but important mention of Peter in Mark 16:7. When three women arrive at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, an angel tells them Jesus has risen and then gives them instruction: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Clearly, God had plans.

      Next, Peter is apparently the first disciple to see Jesus after the resurrection, alone. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that Jesus first met with Peter before meeting with the rest of the disciples, as though the two of them had an important matter to discuss apart from the group.

      Finally, toward the end of John’s gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Three times (John 21:15, 16, 17), perhaps once for each denial, he asks Peter if he loves him. Peter takes advantage of the opportunity to counter each of his denials with a confession of love and loyalty. He is not only forgiven but fully restored.

      I wonder if Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him enough. I suppose it is one thing to love Jesus enough to believe in him, but it is a whole new level of commitment to love Jesus and do something about it. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and the response is affirmative, but if loving him is true, a command follows, “Then tend my lambs, shepherd my sheep and tend my sheep.”

      1. What’s the difference between forgiveness and restoration?
      2. Have any of your failures caused you to doubt God’s willingness to restore you? Why or why not?
      3. Under what conditions do you normally forgive someone? Is there any failure too great for you to forgive?
      4. Do you love God enough? I mean enough to risk getting out of your comfort zone and do something great for his kingdom?
      5. What might Jesus be asking you to do to demonstrate your love for him?

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