Growing in God
GROWING IN GOD
Here is a story for you about the power and problems of tradition. “ A mother is making meatloaf with her teenage daughter; a ritual they’ve been doing together for years. As part of the tradition, the two chefs cut the ends of each side of the meatloaf before putting it in the oven. One day, the teen asks, “Mom, why do we cut the ends off the meatloaf before we put it in the oven?”
Taken by surprise, the mom began to think. She had no good reason, other than that’s how her own mother did it and that was the way she learned. Together, the two called up grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off each side of the meatloaf before putting it in the oven?” After a brief laugh, the Grandmother admitted that she didn’t know the answer either. It was the way her own mother taught her. Tradition. It turns out her mother was living in a nearby nursing home, so they all went to visit.
Upon hearing the question, the 98-year-old great grandmother roared with laughter. “I have no idea why you are cutting the ends off the meatloaf! I used to do it only because I didn’t have a big enough pan!”
We are all looking for that recipe. That recipe to grow. To grow in our careers, in our families, in our spiritual lives. But as this modern parable shows us, sometimes the traditions and strategies of the past, were not perfect, and they may not serve us well if we follow them slavishly in the future. As Paul explains to us today, whether we are seeking that old time religion, or new age revelation, these exterior forms do not guarantee spiritual growth. But Paul tells us there is good news today. And the good news is this.
When we are connected to the head who is Christ. We will grow spiritually.
Christ as the head of the church grows us spiritually in two ways.
- He feeds us
- He Leads us
First, Christ grows us by feeding us. Paul calls Christ the head of the church. Though we are a more egalitarian society than the one Paul lived in we still use the term head of the household. A head of the household is someone who provides for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their family. So by calling Christ the head, Paul is saying that Christ provides for our needs. If you think about the analogy of the body, the head is where your mouth is. If you want the rest of the body to survive, the head must consume food for the body to grow. And yet it seems like the Colossians believed you to grow spiritually by simply not eating physical food. This is called asceticism. Asceticism is a fancy word for saying denying yourself food and material possessions. In the Judaism of Jesus’ day fasting was one of the three major spiritual disciplines, along with prayer and giving of alms to the poor.
And yet, one of the major themes in the Gospel’s, is outside of Jesus’ forty day fast when Jesus was being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, Jesus was known for abandoning this traditional Jewish practice, and people in his day criticized him for it.
Jesus taught that it is not what we put into our body, whether we eat or don’t eat, that defiles, but what comes out of our hearts that defiles. To quote Jesus, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:18).
As far as we know Jesus fasted only once in his ministry, to prepare to face Satan in the wildernness. And when the Devil tempted him to use his power to turn stones into bread Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Here Jesus is quoting a scripture from Deuteronomy. Jesus is showing us that human being problems are spiritual so our solution is spiritual. It seems the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and he fasted for forty days so he could focus on the study of scripture. He was seeking from His Father wisdom from the Word of God to overcome the trial he faced. Indeed, the book of James says, “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.”( James 1:5).
In the trials that we face in our lives what I think Paul and Jesus are telling us is that study of God’s Word is essential. As I mentioned last week, we have three great adult Bible studies here that you all can get involved in. Personally, one of the highlights of my week is Thursday mornings, where I attend a 6:30 am Bible study with some seasoned saints over at Westminster Canterbury. I am not necessarily a morning person. But I find after I have spent an hour discussing God’s Word that I receive wisdom for the rest of my day and the rest of my week. It isn’t even that the things we are discussing relate to a particular thing I am going through. It is that going chapter by chapter through a book of the Bible teaches me about the way God thinks and it helps me accept God’s Wisdom for my life. Wisdom is the art of applying what we learn from God to complicated situations which may not have a set solution. We gain wisdom by setting aside time to study God’s Word with each other. Sometimes this may involve fasting. But this is not because we want to just give up food. It is because we want to spend more time studying God’s Word.
Here are some devotionals I have found helpful in studying God’s Word
Instead of giving up things to grow in our faith Paul advises that we add things to grow in our Faith. To quote Paul in Colossians, “ Put on then, as God’s Chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14). What does God want you to add to your life? Does he want you to give more to the church? Commit to a ministry? Be a more loving parent? Be a more loving spouse? This will certainly cause you to give something else up because we have limited amounts of time and resources. But Jesus says the spiritual life is a question of attitude. And our attitude should be how God wants us to grow not what he wants us to give up. When we want to grow we will learn to give up the things we don’t need. If we don’t want to grow then giving things up will only breed false humility.
First, we see that Christ as the head of the church feeds us. He does through primarily through studying and fellowship around His Word. Second, we see that Christ leads us the head is where most of our senses are located. Our eyes, our ears, our nose. Besides our sense of touch, which is located throughout our body, so many of the ways we perceive the world are located in our head. And it seems in this passage Paul is warning against associating too closely our physical senses with spiritual experiences. Apparently, the church at Colassae had gotten into worship of Angels, which in the Bible are created beings like people, just without a permanent physical form. They have also gone into details about visions and spiritual experiences and this has made some think that they are more spiritual than others because they have had these spiritual experiences.
This raises the question of the place of signs, wonders, miracles, and other spiritual experiences in the Christian walk. In 2 Corinthians Paul talks about how our mortal bodies will pass away and we will be giving heavenly dwellings, heavenly bodies. We do not see this now but Paul tells the Corinthians that we walk by faith and not by sight ( 2 Corinthians 5:7). Also in the extended ending of the Gospel of Mark Jesus says that miracles and signs will follow believers (Mark 16:17). It is interesting that this is exactly the opposite way many believers think. We look for outward signs in this world of God’s Will for our lives. Big or little miracles to show us that God exists. And when we see those signs we tend to go in that direction. But what Paul and Jesus says is that faith in the invisible God, not in the exterior world, should be our guidance. And when we are guided by the invisible God, visible signs will accompany or follow us.
Often in my own preaching I will write sermons two weeks in advance. This is so that I am not unduly influenced by events going on around me. Yet I notice throughout my week events or signs that affirm the message I am preaching on. And some of you tell me that it is as if I am talking directly to your personal situation. But this is not because I knew about your personal situation. It is because I studied, planned ahead of time, prayed for wisdom, and trusted God with the results. In your own life and decisions study, plan ahead of time, pray for wisdom, and trust God with the results. Proverbs 16:9 says a man plans his way the Lord guides his steps. Perhaps you have heard the phrase, ” if you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans.” I think this is incorrect. I think the correct phrase should be if you want to hear God laugh tell Him you won’t change your plans. If you lock yourself in your room for the rest of your life probably nothing will happen. But if you are flexible in your plans God can use your plans for amazing things.
When we think about someone in the Bible who experienced a lot of spiritual growth, we can think of the journey of Peter, one of Jesus’ closets disciples. Here is a guy who was zealous for Jesus, but when push came to shove, he denied Jesus three times. Yet, Jesus restores him and makes him a leader in the church. We find Peter in Acts Chapter 10. The Lord has just used Peter to perform two amazing miracles. The Lord used Peter to heal a man named Aeneas who had been bedridden for eight years in the town of Lydda (Acts 9:35). And in a nearby town called Joppa God used Peter to raise a woman named Tabitha from the dead. After these two miracles Peter takes a break and stay with a man named Simon, a man who tans leather.
During this time the Lord appears to a Centurion, a Roman Solider, named Cornelius. Cornelius was a God-fearing man. He was interested in the God of Israel and he supported the local synagogue. He was a generous man and a man of prayer. There is no indication that Cornelius had ever seen a vision before. But an Angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius and asked him to send for Peter who was in Joppa at the time. So Cornelius sent two of his servants to get a man who he had never met.
That following day, it was around noon and Peter had gone to the roof of house he was staying at to pray. He was hungry, because it was lunch time, so he asked his host to prepare lunch. There is no indication that Peter was involved in any special fast. In fact he was doing his regular prayers and was getting ready to eat lunch. But then Peter had a vision. He saw the heavens open and something like a sheet descending. In this sheet were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds. The voice of the Lord told Peter to eat. But because Peter was an observant Jew, he did not want to eat unclean food. The voice replied, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times so God could get the point across.
Peter had no idea what this crazy vision meant. But then Cornelius’ servants come and Peter understands the meaning of the dream. If he had not received the vision Peter would have never had broken bread with a non-Jewish person because he believed that God would judge him for eating unclean food. Even though Jesus had told him that it is what comes out of the heart that makes one unclean not what we put into our bodies, Peter was still holding on to his tradition. So God really had to knock him over the head to get him to change. That Peter received a vision was not a sign of Peter’s spiritual maturity. It was how God chose to overcome Peter’s immaturity.
Cornelius was dealing with some immaturity as well. When Peter arrived at his house the first thing Cornelius did was he fell down and worshiped Peter. Perhaps, since God sent Cornelius an Angel, Cornelius thought Peter was an Angel. Perhaps he had heard of the miracles Peter had performed. Either way Cornelius thought that Peter was a divine being worthy of worship. But Peter told him that he was just a man like Cornelius. Peter taught Cornelius about the one true God as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. And Cornelius taught Peter that God shows no partiality. He accepts everyone who seeks Him. He does not judge by exterior things. He sees our hearts. Neither Peter nor Cornelius were looking for a sign. They were both seeking the true God’ because they loved God for God’s sake. And when they sought the true God, God gave them some signs to guide them to a greater understanding of who He is. They both grew as a result of this divine encounter. But the divine encounter came because they were both men of prayer who sought to know God better. Signs followed their walk with God. There walk with God was not determined by exterior signs. They walked by faith not by sight.
The scriptures describe the process of knowing God as a process of being born again (John 3).And today as the world celebrates the human tradition of mother’s day, we must reflect as mother’s, father’s, son’s, and daughters, on the deeper meanings of what it is to be born. As our scripture from Isaiah says being born doesn’t happen over night. It is a long painful process. And it can be painful process even to raise a child. And we all come out of the womb with our bodies not being able to support our heads. But our desire is that our children would grow, their bodies would grow to support their minds. And that is God’s desire for us that we would grow. And if you fall down a thousand times, if it is three steps back and one step forward, you are still going forward. God does not desire that we would be perfect but that we would have a desire to grow. And if we have a desire to Grow in God, God will use us for amazing things.