Sunday, August 02, 2015

Growing Up

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

Ephesians 4:1-16
Today, I want to talk with you about growing up, becoming mature. 

We all know people, I’m sure, who have grown older, but have not grown up. They’re just as childish at fifty-five as they were at five. They go through jobs, partners, and friends as quickly as Kim Kardashian produces selfies. 

The reason for this is simple: Growing up is hard work. It’s easier to be childish. 

Growing up means learning things like deciding on our values and if we will live in accordance with them, the art of compromise, how to handle disappointment, how to handle success, being accountable to others, living within our means, or striving to be better today than we were the day before. Growing up means moving away from being me-centered to being we-centered.

Since we all have to live together, it's the responsibility of every human being on the planet to grow up. And to never stop growing up because every new phase of life, right up to the moment of death, challenges us to grow, change, adapt, and create. 

We are either growing or we are dying; there is no third choice. 

Now, we all know this about growing up in how we relate to our families, our friends, our jobs. But in my years as a pastor, I have been astounded by the number of church-going Christians who work hard and intentionally at maturing in every other aspect of their lives except the most important one, their relationship with the God we know in Jesus Christ and with the people of Christ’s body, the Church. 

I can’t tell you how many good adult people I have watched over the years try to confront the big challenges of their lives--job loss, the loss of loved ones, relationship issues--with the faith of a newly-confirmed fourteen year old. 

There's nothing wrong with the faith of a newly-confirmed fourteen year old for as long as the confirmand is still fourteen years old. 

But because many people don’t keep growing as disciples of Jesus Christ beyond the age of fourteen, they’re ill-prepared to deal with the challenges and possibilities of adult life. 

Listen: We only more fully experience the greatness of God’s love, grace, and power in our lives when we commit ourselves, intentionally, to daily maturing, as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

“When I was a child,” the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 

As Christians, we need to daily commit ourselves to putting away the ways of childhood behind us. 

All three of our Bible lessons for today present God’s call to those who would follow and claim to believe in Jesus Christ to grow up in their faith. This call comes through with crystal clarity in the second lesson, Ephesians 4:1-16. 

In verse 1, Paul writes: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” 

The calling that the Ephesians received is the same calling that Juliet has received this morning: to live and be the trusting children of God that Christ’s death and resurrection has set us free to be

We are to live our calling as people who have been bought and paid for by Jesus Christ through the expenditure of His body and blood on the cross. We’re to live our faith like we mean it. 

Do we mean it when we confess the words of the Apostles’ Creed or offer the Lord’s Prayer? Paul would say, then we need to live it. 

Do we mean it when we say we have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, that we are committed to love God and love neighbor, that we accept Jesus’ great commission that we make disciples? Paul would say, then we need to live it.

Are we repentant for our sins and committed to showing humble compassion to our fellow sinners? Again, Paul would say, then we need to live it.

In Luke 16:10, Jesus says, ““Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” When we were growing up from childhood to adulthood, it was exciting and exhilarating being entrusted with more demanding tasks as we showed ourselves to be increasingly capable. We need to work at being grown-up in Christ so that we're people who can be entrusted with more and more of the challenging and important work of being Christ’s ambassadors in our everyday worlds. Nothing is more exhilarating.

Paul next describes how it looks when we’re living out our call as disciples of Christ: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

Christians are not Lone Rangers. The Christian life is not about "Jesus and me," but about "Jesus and we." You can’t do Christian faith solo because you can’t do Church solo

When Juliet was claimed by God this morning in the waters of Holy Baptism, she was also welcomed into the Lord’s family, the body of Christ, the Church

As Christians, as disciples who are part of the Living Water community, we’re to be gentle and humble in our dealings with each other. We’re to be patient with each other, knowing that, though we may all be committed to growing up as followers of Jesus, the Lord isn’t finished with any of us yet. 

Just as life in our families is meant to fortify and prepare us to deal with the world each day, so life in the Church is meant to fortify and prepare us to move out into our daily lives with faith and hope, the power to resist temptation, the power to share our faith, the inspiration to keep surrendering to Christ in prayer and study of His Word. And the Church is also meant to fortify and prepare us for all that God will have for us to be and do in eternity with Him.

Paul goes on to explain, starting in verse 11, how disciples are empowered for growth in the Church: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” 

In churches committed to helping disciples grow up, leaders equip the rest of the body of Christ to use their gifts, talents, abilities, and lives to live their faith out in the world, not just to be volunteers for church activities

The point of Living Water's mission trips and other mission efforts, for example, isn’t just to serve the people we serve together in Jesus’ name. It’s also to take us out of our everyday comfort zones and teach us to commit the same acts of witness and service in Jesus’ name in our everyday lives

And my job, Dan’s job, Mark’s job, the job of every Sunday School teacher and ministry leader, is to equip you to be disciples in your everyday world, to set you free to grow up as disciples of Jesus Christ. To equip you grow up. 

We are called to equip you to reach up to God and reach in to others in this church family and to pray and study God’s Word with others in our church family, so that you can reach out to the world with confidence and hope and faith in Jesus Christ. 

And we do that by encouraging you to adopt six central disciplines of Christian faith: 
(1) regular daily prayer (we will be providing you with tools for that in the months to come);  
(2) regular corporate worship on Sundays;  
(3) regular reading and study of God’s Word, both on your own and with small groups of Living Water folks (more help with that is coming, but you can still be part of Journey Through the Bible);  
(4) being part of intentional Christian friendships, small groups of people with whom you share your daily journey of faith, who encourage you when you’re down, and give you a kick in the seat when you need to grow more; 
(5) service and witness in Jesus’ name;  and  
(6) finally, giving of yourself and your possessions to the cause of Jesus Christ in the world. *
As we implement Simple Church and the discipleship culture at Living Water, you will hear more and more about these disciplines of the Christian life. 

In coming months, we’ll begin some tiny small groups that will carry the seed of deepened discipleship and spiritual growth to the next step in our congregation and we will offer frequently-changing educational opportunities for you wherever you are in your life, wherever you are in your spiritual growth--from reaching up to reaching in to reaching out. 

We want every disciple of Christ who is part of this congregation to have the chance to grow up and keep growing up. That process should start for all of us, from the moment we are baptized and continue to the moment we pass from this life into the presence of our Lord Jesus.

Taking our cue from Paul in today's second lesson, the aim of all this equipping is simple. Verse 12 on: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” 

God’s Holy Spirit is at work in this congregation. You can sense it every time we gather--whether for worship or a church council meeting or a mission effort. 

My experience is that every time God is doing great things in a congregation, Satan tries to mess things up. He attacks. He sows division. He puts up obstacles. That's because Satan is the biggest jerk in the universe

But, we must always remember that, no matter what trouble he may cause us, Satan has already lost. Jesus has already conquered sin, death, and Satan. And we who confess Jesus Christ as God and Savior and Lord belong to Jesus Christ forever

If we will commit ourselves to working at growing as disciples of Christ, to lives in which God will keep us growing and thriving through daily prayer, corporate worship, the study of God’s Word, service in Jesus’ name, engagement in small groups, and giving to the cause of Christ, both through Living Water and elsewhere, we will be ready for anything, unshakeable, able to speak God’s truth to anyone with love and respect and compassion. 

And we will grow to be a united force in the world for the One Who died and rose to make us children of God, Jesus Christ. 

Wherever we may meet for worship, Sunday School, Bible study, mission work, or planning meetings, folks, this is where God is taking Living Water: to a life growing up, of continuous maturation, as disciples of Jesus Christ, so that God can use us to do all the wonderful, remarkable things He wants to do in us and through us for the world He loves

I ask you today, right now, to commit yourself to continued maturity as a Christian, to continued surrender to Jesus Christ, to continued commitment to each other as Christian sisters and brothers, for the good of every other disciple who is part of Living Water and for the good of the world we are called to reach with the gospel, the good news, that all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be saved

By the grace of God, I commit myself to that right now as well. Amen 

*The colors in which the six spiritual disciplines are printed correspond with the three aspects of our mission as a church:
Reach up
Reach in
Reach out

No comments: