Posts Tagged ‘maturing Christians’

Joshua 5:2-12 (Part 3 of 3)

Israel Reestablishes Covenant Ceremonies

 

Have you ever thought about how we as the church-going general public are little babies sometimes? The 80-20 rule that you here about in the business world is so true in churches at times. You know 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people? On most Sundays, at any given church, there will be the vast majority of people who come to church and that is the only contact that they will have with the church or anything spiritual the whole week. They come to church on Sundays to get that feel good from the music and the prayers and to hear a challenging sermon. They get their spiritual high and then walk out the door and lead pretty much secular lives the rest of the week. They do not participate in small groups. They do not serve in Sunday morning assistance ministries. They do not participate in the men’s or women’s ministries. They do not participate in learning opportunities to go deeper in their faith. They do not participate in community outreach. They like the idea of mission trips but consider it too expensive and too inconvenient. And, most of all, they do not give to the church regularly and when they do it’s when they have a spare $10 bill in their wallet. They talk about the Bible based on what they have heard other people say but never read it. They may believe stuff about the Bible that is not true because they either do not have a Bible in the house or, if they do, it just sits on the shelf collecting dust.

 

Just think about it. Many of us have been there in our early our exposure to the Christian life before we accept Christ as our Savior or when we are less mature in our faith. Sometimes, we get in this same place when we get burnt out on church. We say we go to church but we wonder why our life is no different. We feel good on Sunday but wonder why by Tuesday that feeling is gone. We sit and listen attentively at church. We go to dinner with people we have met in church, but nothing about our lives seems any different than before we started attending church regularly. We want the life that the preacher talks about in his sermon and we walk away Sunday afternoon challenged. But as life creeps in and old sins that are our friends sing their siren song to us, we fall back into our underachieving spiritual lifestyle. We want the Christ-like life but we are not willing to change or are not willing to do the work necessary to grow.

 

Being a Christ follower is like when I sit here and consider why I weigh 231 lbs. There are three things at work that have caused me to be about 30-35 lbs overweight. First, I do not exercise regularly. I go through spits and spurts with it, but never do I consistently work out 20 out 30 days in a month, every month. Secondly, as my metabolism as I have moved from my 40s into my 50s, I have not reduced my caloric intake to match my new and lower metabolic rate (I still eat like I a 20 year old kid). Finally, it’s what I eat. I cannot expect to make any appreciable dent in my weight until I consistently exercise every month, month after month, until I reduce the amount of food I eat, and until I see the relationship between the types of food I eat and my weight.

 

It is the same with being a Christ follower. We cannot expect to grow if we just go to church on Sunday and that’s it. If we do not seek God in prayer on a daily basis, if we do not study (not just read to say you have read) the Bible, if we do not seek ways to interact with other and more mature Christians, if we do not participate in the ministries of the church, if we do not participate in community outreach, if we do not support or go on mission trips, if we do not go deeper into our relationship with God through learning opportunities or through life groups, if we do not learn to help others out of love and concern for them, we will not grow. We may sit around and wonder why we do not have the spiritual life that someone we admire at church but yet we are not willing to put out the effort. We would rather wake up in the morning and pick the manna up off the ground rather than plow the field and wait for the harvest. We don’t want to put in the work. We don’t want to watch what we expose our minds and bodies to. We want all the fun of being part of the church and being a Christ follower but we don’t want anything that requires us to put ourselves out. We don’t want to have to make any sacrifices for this Christ follower thing. And above all, we don’t want to give any money in any sacrificial way. We just want to sit around and criticize why the facilities of the church are not in tip top shape. We want to criticize why the church can’t do this and can’t do that and why doesn’t it offer this or that to me. Yet, at the same time, we give less than 2% of our income to the church, if we give at all.

 

We don’t pray. It seems a waste of time. We don’t study the Bible. I can’t understand it. We don’t help out on Sunday mornings. It would require me to get up early on Sunday morning. We don’t participate in men’s ministry. I might have to reveal something and then during football season it meets at the same time I go to the bar to watch Monday night football. We don’t grow and we eventually fall away. Why? Because we don’t want to work. We want the manna and not the richness of the crops because the crops require hard work. We want to be spoon-fed and never grow up.

 

That idea of growing up in our faith is what struck me this morning. That idea of doing our part not just waiting and complaining about what God is not doing for us is what hit me as I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next one. Let us read this passage, Joshua 5:2-12, one more time together:

 

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[a]

 

4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

 

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[b] to this day.

 

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[c] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

 

In this passage, you will note in the final verse of the passage that the manna disappeared. God had supplied manna to the hungry Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 16:14-31). In the bountiful Promised Land, they no longer needed this daily food supply because the land was ready for planting and harvesting. God had miraculously provided food for the Israelites while they were in the wilderness. Here, He provided food from the land itself. From this real life situation, we can see that prayer is not an alternative for preparation and faith is not a substitute for hard work. God can and does provide miraculously for His people as needed, but He also expects them to use their God-given talents and resources to provide for themselves. If our prayers are going unanswered it may simply be God’s timing vs. ours. However, it could also be that what you are praying for is already within your reach. In these situations, we must pray for wisdom to see it what’s already there and the motivation to step into it.

 

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians that they had to continue living and not just waiting around for an expected immediate return of Jesus Christ. They should continue to work. They should continue to live. They should understand that they are secure in their salvation but every day we are here is an opportunity to demonstrate the Christ-like life to the world around us. We must strive for holiness in each day that we wait for Christ’s return. We must continue to grow in faith and in holiness so that we are pleasing to the Lord. It is the same for us. We cannot sit around and wait to be spoon fed manna. We have to participate in our relationship with God. He will provide for us but He also expects us to do the hard work of being a Christian in everyday life. We must repent of our sins. We must learn what our sins are and walk away from them as the Holy Spirit brings each one and each unholy pattern of behavior to our attention. We must be willing to live sacrificially with our time, our talents, and our resources. We must be willing to give our lives away to our fellow man. We must be givers instead of consumers. We must grow up.

 

We must plow the field even when its not fun or when we can’t yet see the plants grow instead of just expecting manna to fall from the skies. Yes, God is still in the miracle business but we can’t stay babies in high chairs waiting to be fed manna. We must get out there and exercise our faith and do the hard work of being a Christ follower that requires pain and suffering sometimes for not so immediate results sometimes. We must be willing to work for the harvest that God has for us later on down the line.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 27:1-10

The Altar at Mount Ebal

It is one thing to be accepted as a member of God’s people. It is another to grow up into a mature member of God’s people. The difference is one is a convert and the other is a disciple. Jesus, in the Great Commission, did not say Go and make converts. He said Go and make disciples. Certainly, you cannot make disciples if conversion does not occur first. However, Jesus wanted us to grow people in the faith once they had accepted him as Savior and Lord. That is what many modern churches are dealing with. My church and many like it that have sprung up on the Christian church landscape over the past 20 years specialize in attracting those who have never heard of a relationship with a Savior named Jesus Christ or those who have been away from church for many years.

 

Churches like ours are reaching people with the gospel message in ways that traditional, old-school churches with their denominational affiliation in their name cannot or are not willing to reach. Many people are afraid of churches with denominations in their name. They are afraid of church named after families and have memorial in their name. Many people outside God’s family today are afraid of churches with mammoth buildings made of brick and have three stories of classrooms attached to a large and ornate sanctuary. Many who are far from God are afraid of fancy suits and fashionable dresses. That’s where our church and others like it come in. Our worship center some say looks like a Harley shop with its combination of white and black with orange striping. It is not a brick and mortar building. It is a iron frame building. Our people have always felt that they could come in their blue jeans. It is a come-as-you-are church. We are the classic modern church. We are only 10 years old. We seek and attract those who are far from God. We are what is called a seeker church, an attractional church.

 

We are a toddler of a church compared to many of the traditional churches in our area. One of things that we have come to realize as part of beginning our second decade of existence is that we have had a problem with “stickiness” over the past 3 to 4 years. We grew rapidly in the first 6 to 7 years of our existence. However, during the past three to four years, we have begun losing attendees at about the same rate that we have been attracting new ones. As a result, our growth rate has slowed. What we have learned is that in order to make our church “sticky” (where people come to a church and stay), we needed to help our people grow in the faith. That’s what traditional churches have done well for years – Christian education and discipleship.

 

In order for us to have a church of maturing Christians who look more like Christ each day and less like the world each day, we must teach what we believe as Christians, why we believe, and how to apply those beliefs in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs. We must develop Christ followers who know and understand Scripture so that they can make Christ-like choices in their lives. This time, last year we brought Pastor Tim back from the church planting field and re-established the basics for believers class that he had been in charge of before he left to plant LifeSong Church, Manchester, CT. As well, we are now working on developing Christian education over and above that basics for believers class. We are teaching classes on all aspects of being a part of the body of Christ and knowing God’s Word and experiencing God in deeper and more profound ways. We know that we have to do more than attract people to Jesus and lead them to the cross but we have to teach them how to live beyond kneeling at the cross. We cannot simply stay kneeled at the cross. We must emerge and lived changed lives. Without Christian education and biblical knowledge, a spiritual infant will remain undeveloped and still act a whole lot like the world.

 

That need to make disciples and not just converts is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 27:1-10. You’ll see why after we read through it:

 

27 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. 2 When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. 3 Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster. 5 Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. 6 Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. 7 Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Curses From Mount Ebal

 

9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”

 

Here in this passage, we see that Moses, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was telling the people that they needed to keep God’s laws in the forefront of their society. The laws of God needed to be visible and ever-present in their lives. By stating that it needed to be made of natural, uncut stones, to me, that means that God did not want His word dresses up. He did not want it added to or taken away. He just wanted His Word, His Law, made clear and unadulterated. But most of all He wanted His Word before His people each and every day so that it would be an ever-present part of their lives.

 

The only way we internalize God’s Word is through constant exposure to it. As we learn it and become more and more familiar with it, God’s Word becomes a part of our nature. We know how to handle situations according to His ways. When we know Scripture, we are able to call it up in our minds when we face situations where we do not know how to handle them. When God’s Word is an ever-present part of our lives, it changes us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit helps us recall God’s Word and apply it to our lives. We are changed by it. We are matured by it. We become disciples by it.

 

That is what we are learning at our church is that in order to mature our people and help them grow deeper in Christ, we must encounter them with God’s Word in classroom and self-directed study settings such that our people keep God’s Word before us always and make it a part of our daily lives. Our church is requiring/suggesting that all of our people regardless of spiritual maturity go through the Basics class and then start choosing higher level classes after that just so that we as mature believers don’t “get fat and sassy” (an old Southern expression meaning that we can get complacent sometimes when we think we have it made). We as a church staff want our people to take the basics class before any others so that we are all on the same page and have the same understanding. We are getting pushback from some of our more mature members. But I find that pushback shortsighted. We are never too old to learn. We are never too mature to refresh. We are never completed in our discipleship. It is amazing to me how sometimes a passage of God’s Word can be read by me a 1000 times and it not hit home. However, there is that one time that it hits you like a ton of bricks and you find new revelation in a passage you’ve known by heart for decades.

 

We must keep God’s Word ever-present before us. It teaches anew each and every day. Keep God’s Word before us so that it is there with us every day. Even the oldest Christian can learn something new from an infinitely more wise God. Even the oldest Christian can find no revelation for this particular phase of their lives in Scripture that they glossed over for decades. God’s Word is alive applies to us anew each day. We are never too old to have God’s Word before us each and every day.

 

Amen and Amen.