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Christian Growth

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Frustrated?

As a pastor, I often hear these words from people at my church or people in between churches. “I’m just not getting fed anymore.” 

Now there is something in me that gets defensive when I hear that. Partly because I spend a bunch of hours pouring into a sermon that I present on Sundays that are highly labor intensive. It’s probably the same feeling a parent has who has worked so hard to make healthy food that will help their child grow and they don’t want it and keep searching the pantry for a pop tart. 

What makes things even worse for me is that I was that person. I have literally said the same thing. I don’t know if every disgruntled person goes to school to learn the phrase I’m just not getting fed or if that is just included at no charge in our sin nature. When I was in seminary, I was frustrated with the church because we weren't doing what I wanted them to do. I remember telling the pastor, “I’m not really getting fed here.” Now, here is what is interesting. I was in seminary classes, Monday-Thursday. Everyday I was learning from one of the most prestigious seminaries in the country. Had people feeding me information and spiritual truth more than 99% of the world would ever achieve and I still was frustrated at the church for not feeding me. It’s kind of like having an in house chef and then getting angry at the soup kitchen for not providing a more expansive menu. And if I am honest, I had other sin issues in my life and so I blamed the church for their poor selection of religious goods and services. 

 Our Problem

I think we all struggle with growing as a Christian. Our sin nature revealed in us brings about three things I think that distract from our ability to become more Christlike. And perhaps the greatest problem is also the simplest. We have moved on from the Gospel. The church that I went to preached the Gospel every week. The church that I went to was very outreach oriented and had community groups where people could grow deeper in relationships. My problem was there was nowhere we could get deeper training on the languages of the Bible. We didn’t have a deeper study method than getting into God’s Word. They weren’t being accommodating of me and my needs as a mature Christian. Do you see my arrogance and selfishness? I was being taught daily by professors but wanted the church to do even more for me on top of what I already had access to.

Another reason why we get frustrated with church and don’t grow is because we have never had anyone disciple us. Or perhaps, the people that wanted to disciple us, well, we weren’t really excited about them. Even though the very thing I needed at that time was for someone to tell me I was being selfish, I couldn’t hear it because I never brought up my frustration with the church because every time I was about to, it sounded petty. Because it was. But that is why it is so important to do life with someone who is a step or a 100 steps ahead of us in the faith. Their presence helps us gain perspective on our Christian walk and allow us to grow.

Finally, if it isn’t clear from my own life...we have become entitled. We expect the church to meet our individual expectations like our favorite restaurant, and if they don’t, we will take our business elsewhere.

God’s Word

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote to a church that needed help growing. He gives them one verse that describes perfectly how we are to grow as Christians. 

Colossians 2:6

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,

When I was in the military I learned the essence of offensive warfare could be broken down into three basic things. Reconnaissance, raid, and ambush. At Ranger School, we would just do these over and over again. When we weren't on offense, we practiced the art of defense by setting up and maintaining a patrol base. Every operation is some form of this. The more you understood the basic recon, the basic raid, and the basic ambush the more you could do complicated things like an urban assault which basically takes all three and then does them in succession and with a lot of communication. 

Seal Team 6

When I was in Iraq I had Seal Team 6 attached to our unit and every now and then they would go with us on patrol. They knew the basics of a Raid better than anyone I ever met. One part of the raid is room clearing. The essence of room clearing is that you are never exposed to the enemy. On my hip was a seal who could walk backwards almost as well as he moved forward. He moved in such a way that I was continuously covered. When the Seals were with us, it felt like warfare became art, they were so smooth. 

I asked how they got to become so smooth, and I remember him saying something so simple. We practice…a lot. What that meant was they had dedicated their lives to learning how to shoot move and communicate in a way that all of their movements felt second nature--sort of like driving a stick shift. After a while, engaging the clutch, shifting through the gears is something that you can do while also adding chocolate to an ice cream sundae (which I may or may not have done as a kid in high school).

Basics of Faith

For Christians, I think there is something in us that desires to move on from the Gospel. But clearly from Colossians 2:6 we need to go back to our salvation and daily preach what we heard to ourselves. This isn’t about daily getting saved as if we could lose our salvation at midnight--not in the sense of getting saved again, but in the sense that I needed to remember that I brought nothing to the table before God. That my Christian growth depended on my dependence on Him. When I made a decision for Christ in 1999, I was so excited about how broken I was. I was in tears. I was in joy. I was in a place of realizing that Jesus saved me. He had a purpose for me. I brought nothing to the table. That all that I have is more joy. And now I realize that even more. But every now and then, when sin, shame, or performance catches up with me, I start to think about getting beyond that and getting over that. But inevitably every argument. All my anger. All my sin. All of the darkness is wrapped up in my identity being misplaced in something other than Jesus. 

A Visual

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That is how people grow. Before we trust in Christ we are dead in sin. However, when we believe that Jesus died on the cross for us, we see our own depravity. We see we deserved Hell. We see the righteousness of Jesus and what he did for us. As time passes we don’t move on from that fact, but we start to realize how much Jesus saved us from. We have a deeper understanding of our own depravity and of the Gospel’s impact on us. That is what it means to never get beyond the Gospel. We dig deep into the Gospel we see our own wretched hearts. The way we have self protected through lying. The way sought approval by people pleasing. The way we looked to satisfy our lust for power in pornography. The way we asserted control by making demands of others. The way we put our comfort in front of what is right. Alongside recognizing our depravity is recognizing the holiness of God. How great, how magnificent, how wonderful God is.

Colossians 2:6 is followed by verse 7 that says, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

All growth is in Christ. There is no growth outside of Christ. Remember as you received Christ you were told you did nothing to earn it. We emphasize properly that people don’t have to perform to be accepted. For example, baptism is an act of obedience because we are saved, not to be saved. Over time however there is a drift from that. That is why being rooted is so important. Trees with deep roots are not easily moved. 

Just As You Were Taught

Paul in writing this portion of the letter referenced their being taught. Previous to this, he shared all that teaching involved. He wrote

1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake...

1:28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Suffering?

Paul shared that he suffered for their sake. He was teaching, he was admonishing, he was working, with all His energy. It seems confusing a little bit that Paul would write about his discipleship efforts as suffering. But when I think about it, raising my own kids entails some personal suffering. Dealing with people’s immaturity and selfishness requires a little bit of suffering. Just in general, I don’t know I would write a letter to someone that I really loved that now (as opposed to then) I rejoice in my sufferings for their sake. I just would probably blow it off like it was no big deal. But perhaps that is my pride or a little of my codependence and wanting to save people from getting their feelings hurt. But the reality was that for Paul he suffered as he was trying to help these new Christians become rooted in their faith.

Pastor World

Honestly as a pastor, I get this. In the past couple months I have had the privilege of leading a half dozen people to decisions for Christ. And almost immediately, they were making bad decisions with their lives. One filed for divorce. One decided on a whim to move out of state with no plan. One decided that showing up to meet was too inconvenient. Another said they would read God’s Word and pray, but then never did. And another jumped into the faith with both feet. I have prayed to God, I have texted, I have called. I have done whatever I could do to get their faith rooted. Thankfully, God has given me that desire. Thankfully God has kept their interest and their contact, and their local address. Now Paul had to deal with people constantly trying to kill him on top of people not being mature in Christ, so may have had a little more difficulty, but the great news was that it wasn’t Paul’s stamina or words or wisdom. Everything pointed back to Jesus and His dependence on Him. It was Paul’s joy to struggle alongside these new Christians and watch them grow.

But this gets us to the point if you are walking this Christian life and you don’t have someone to push you along then you will be struggling. You need someone to help present you mature in Christ. Someone praying for you. Someone who deeply cares for you.

Thanks

Paul wrote that disciples should be abounding in thanksgiving.This is a bi-directional thanks. One to God. Two to their disciple maker. If disciple makers suffer to present you mature in Christ, then it would seem appropriate to thank them. Of course they are happy to do it. As a friend of mine used to say, “No one can take advantage of the Lord’s servant.” How true that is. Disciple makers are working for the Lord, not for men, but it is good for both disciple and disciple maker if the disciple is exceptionally gratuitous with thanks. And apparently this is something of which all Christians needed to be reminded. 

Galatians 6:6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 

It seems there is something in us that forgets to reach out and say thanks. There is a tendency in all of us to simply go through the motions to be self absorbed and perhaps feel entitled. It all goes back to forgetting where we were and what God has done and feeling like our words and actions don’t really matter.

10 Lepers

Remember Jesus and the 10 lepers. In Luke 17, Jesus comes upon 10 lepers. They were the untouchables. They were rejected, scorned, and feared. And Jesus changed their future. Only one returned to say thanks. Maybe the miracle was expected by the other nine. Maybe they got caught up in their new life. Maybe they thought they would never see Jesus again. Maybe they had another explanation for their healing. 

When it comes to the Gospel and the transformation. We all were filled with spiritual leprosy. God in his infinite mercy saved us. He transformed us. He brought us out from darkness into his marvelous light. And so thanking those who helped us along the way is more than appropriate.

Next Step

Let’s Grow! Grow deeper in your understanding of the Gospel. Wrap your head around the truths that the Gospel affects everything. Make the cross big in your life. Get someone to walk alongside you. Don’t just study information. Study each other and see if your identity and life pattern match Jesus. Have a heart of thanks with those that lead you. Email me at Chris@wellsbranchchurch.com and let me help you get connected in a discipleship relationship.