So far we have looked at four character traits of the ‘Mature’ believer, according to the Word; becoming a ‘self-feeder’, growing to be ‘skilled in the Word’, growing in ‘discernment’, and growing ‘beyond’ the basics. Now we’ll shift over to look at the ‘attitudes’ of a mature believer, or rather, how we are to think about some important Biblical issues.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Philippians 3:7-16

Philippians 3 holds another key to Christian maturity, which I will call “attitude”, or rather the way we think about spiritual things. Earlier on in the book of Philippians Paul has already called us to put on the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5). Part of becoming more like Jesus and growing in maturity involves humbly learning from Him, and learning from others, like Paul, as they learn from him (1 Corinthians 11:1). Here we are hearing from Paul some of the thoughts and attitudes that Christ would have us to learn. As Paul clearly states, Let those of us who are mature think THIS way.” Read the rest of this entry »

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I first preached the following sermon at a WDA Campus Ministry meeting at the University of Georgia in 2002. I have been hoping to edit it into essay form to blog for some time now. My interest was rekindled after reading Fred’s fascinating blog on Sickness yesterday, hoping to balance some of the other writing I’ve been doing on the subject in my lengthy dialogue with the text of SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD over at my other blog. It is a healthy reminder to myself, and hopefully many others, that all-to-often we ask the wrong questions. I hope this blesses, challenges, and encourages you…

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Let me set the stage. You’re in the backyard of a single-story brick home on a hilly eight acres of spring-green grass. One acre is a garden, freshly planted, and needing rain. Downhill, East of the house is a small creek-bed lined with maple, white oak, and buckeye trees that seem to form a wall protecting a patch of newly planted evergreens nearly hidden behind them. All around edge the yard are log fence-posts, with fields of wheat, tobacco, and corn crops on the other side. This particular day was dark, and it looked as though it may storm. In the backyard among all that beauty stood an 8 year-old boy who was lonely, angry, and alienated, and just wanted a friend. He had been teased a lot at school for being weird, and many of his “friends” only kept him around as a scapegoat. Though his parents were not believers, his mom had taken him to Vacation Bible School at a local church to help teach him “right and wrong.” There he learned enough about God to come to the conclusion that it was God who was to blame for all his pain. That day, as a storm was fast approaching, that young boy held a pocketknife to the sky and screamed, “Come down here because I’m going to kill you. He waited around for a few minutes, in tears, and when he decided God wasn’t going to show he returned inside. That day he lost what little faith he might have had and began to live his life as though God did not exist. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

The mature practice discernment. Notice; they don’t merely HAVE it – they put it into practice, and this discernment is sharpened by being continually put to good use. The discernment spoken of here is no spiritual gift, but simply something every mature believer, by encountering and knowing and growing up into Christ-like-ness, should have. And what does discernment in practice look like? Godly wisdom – nothing less. What is Godly wisdom? Applying the truth that we discover by “rightly handling the Word”.

It’s easy to let other’s consciences guide us, as seems to be the practice for far too many Evangelical Christians, which results in us, when trying to be ‘Biblical’ on secondary matters, teaching as truth – as law – things that the Scriptures are not actually clear on. Though many think they’re doing other believers a service, too often this acts as an ‘adding to the Gospel’, and usually results in ultimately enslaving genuine believers to the law – emphasizing law over grace, a grave error for believers, which ultimately leads to death, rather than eternal life.

We need to each approach the Word to discern for ourselves how God wants us to apply His Word, and be careful to not bind other believer’s by our own consciences on secondary matters. As each of us matures, we will discern how God is leading.

Finding your Voice…

June 25, 2008

I can sing.  I’ve always been able to sing.  I know it sounds cocky, but I’m just saying – I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard a song I liked and not been able to pick out most every part.  My mom has a beautiful voice – she used to walk the house while cleaning up in the late Summer afternoon singing “The wind they call Muriah” – my dad sang along to the oldies on long vacations, and late nights driving home from playing cards at our cousins nearly every weekend.  Even my grandmother, I discovered after she died, used to play autoharp in her family’s mountain bluegrass band growing up.  It’s in my blood, and though I have worked on it (any muscle needs to be exercised, ya know?), it’s came fairly naturally to me.

I’m very close to someone, however, for whom it has not been so easy.  Imagine your biggest dream being to sing – sometimes your ONLY dream – yet the voice just wasn’t there, and being reminded of it at every turn?  Whenever you sing, those present afterward compliment everyone on stage but you.  Some aren’t even so kind, commenting that so-n-so “sings so much better than you do“, and you wonder if they even have a clue.  So take every opportunity to improve yourself, but it comes in slow, small increments.  You take lessons, and you learn more about your inner life – your heart – than you do about how to command your voice to do what you hear inside your head.  Then one day, you give up – you pray: “God, teach me to sing.”  And not immediately, but almost immediately, something ‘cracks’ when you are worshiping – volume swells up, and faith rises up in you saying “SING!”  It’s a voice you only barely recognize, and though not yet polished, it’s the voice you’ve always heard in your heart – raw, and in need of ‘shaping’, but it’s the voice, none-the-less:  YOUR VOICE.

It’s been a beautiful story for me to see beginning to unfold, but it goes one step further to convince me of something I’ve always known deep in my soul.  EVERYONE CAN SING.  God made us for it, and though your voice may not win on American Idol, you have one – it’s strong, it changes a room when you open it, it says things that were made only for your mouth, expressing ideas that can come only from your heart.  God gave you that voice – it is especially for you: IT IS YOURS.

Never give up – USE IT.  I’ve absolutely no doubt about it: that is what you must do!

amen.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Since the one still needing milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, the mature believer should be the opposite. What does it mean to be “skilled in the word”? As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” To “rightly handle” the word is to be “skilled in the word”: treating God’s revealed Word with reverence, and respect, and interpreting and applying to one’s life (AND the life of others) with care and even fear, given how important it is to apply and understand them correctly (see 2 Peter 3:16). One does this by knowing and understanding the Word in context – historical & literary – so we truly understand what the original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to say. In ‘big words’, we call this “exegesis” – in day to day language it simply means, we should be willing to understand what God is actually saying in His Word, and careful not to read our own ideas into it. As we mature in Christ, this should become more and more natural to us.

Discipleship (part 1)

December 10, 2007

Having read Chris Moncus‘ excellent blog on Volunteers Reproducing Themselves, I was inspired to post an edited version of an essay I wrote in 2005 on Small Group Ministry and Discipleship, as I think it captures the heart of what Chris was talking about. May this continue to happen at our church!

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“Three men digging a ditch on a scorching summer afternoon were approached by a friend who asked, ‘What are you guys doing?’ The first, already weary from exertion, responded impatiently, ‘What does it look like? We’re digging a hole!’

The second, sensing that the question was not meant to be rhetorical, added, ‘We’re laying a foundation pad. It’s going to be filled with concrete.’

The third man, who had been whistling happily while he labored, laid his shovel aside, wiped his forehead, and began to describe in great detail how this particular hole was strategic for the placement of one of the massive ‘flying buttresses’ that would support an entire wall of stained glass windows for a new cathedral. After describing in great detail the plans and procedures for completion Christmas Eve five years from now, my family and I will worship together at the altar where that rubbish pile is now located.’”

– from Bob DukesA Model for Strategic Disciple Building

Discipleship is the most important ministry in the church – in fact, it IS the ministry of the Church It’s a radical thing to say, but I stand behind it. I’m convinced of it from both Scripture and experience. In the Old Testament, according to God himself in Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Discipleship was teaching the faith, practicing the faith, relationships of faith, and day-to-day walking it out in faith – all were to take place. Who would know better than God the best environments and models for discipleship? Then Jesus, in Mark 13:13-15, called the disciples out, challenged them, raised them up, and even appointed them to positions of authority, ultimately sending them out to do likewise. Discipleship is the primary purpose of the Church, and the problem is not that we don’t try to do it – the problem is that we try, but do not have a vision as to what end we do it, and how to get there. This is where our ditch-digger comes in. Read the rest of this entry »

This post has struck a chord with many. I thought I’d share it with you all as well… be encouraged to chime in.
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Isn’t it strange that many Christians, especially churches, forgive fellow ‘believers’ and will often go to almost any end to cover their brothers’ sins, especially when it involves breaking the law, and at the same time spend great energy condemning non-believers who are behaving exactly as their morality and conscience allow. Read the rest of this entry »