As far as parenting goes, Kerri and I have been very fortunate with our kids. We have certainly had ups and downs. Hannah being born 6 weeks early and only weighing 3 lbs 14 ozs. Luke needing a minor surgery at 6 months. And the routine infections, illnesses, and tubes in ears stuff. But for the most part, our kids, once born have been relatively healthy, growing kids.
In November of 2012, the Department of Human Services called and asked if we would be willing to bring Jazmin into our home. DHS knew that they were going to need to terminate the kid’s mom’s rights. And they really wanted Jazmin to be with her siblings, if at all possible.
Well, if you know my wife, you know that she cannot say no to a baby. But I did agree that it was what we needed to do and Jazmin came to live with us.
It wasn’t long after she came to live with us that the doctors began to notice that she was not developing like they thought she should be. They began keeping a close eye on her. But her weight never went up. In fact, she was losing weight. And while I was in Haiti on a mission trip that December, I got a message from Kerri as we were traveling home, that Jazmin had been admitted to Blank Children’s Hospital with a diagnosis called “Failure to Thrive.” We were not familiar with this. This had not been an issue with any of our other kids.
The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center defines Failure to Thrive like this: Children are diagnosed with failure to thrive when their weight or rate of weight gain is significantly below that of other children of similar age and gender. It is not a disease. This is a general diagnosis, with many possible causes. But it has to be dealt with or the child can suffer severe developmental issues and delays, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.
This diagnosis, which Jazmin is still listed under today, began a multi-year journey that has included eating therapy, chewing studies, an array of tests, and a six-week stay in Iowa City for intensive eating therapy. A few months ago she had a feeding tube inserted into her stomach where we feed her four times a day. Each feeding takes one hour. For almost all of these feedings she has to be still like lying on the couch because we have found that too much activity during the feeding upsets her stomach.
We have been told that this feeding tube will likely will be in for several years. And all the time, she continues to receive weekly feeding therapy so that when she is able to have the tube removed, she can eat sufficiently on her own. All this attention, all these tests, all this effort because this beautiful, precious, little girl wasn’t eating enough and growing properly. She was not thriving.
Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the Threads woven through Ashworth Road, the core values that we say are most important to us as a church. We began with the value of Jesus. And we value Jesus because he changes everything. Last week we looked at Connection. We are better together. We say that we are created for one another. We need others in our lives but equally important is the reality that others need you. And when we aren’t connected, there are gaps and holes in our lives and we aren’t the best we can be when one part is missing.
And today I want to look at the value of movement and ask you the question, “What’s your next step?” Movement is critical to you and to me. It is important that we think about where we are headed and ask ourselves, are we growing spiritually? Are we closer to God today than we were yesterday? Do I look more like Jesus today than I did a year ago?
I think Movement is a big issue in most churches today. An issue because if we are honest, if we were to evaluate our spiritual journey, some of us would have to admit that we could be diagnosed with a failure to thrive…spiritually. But we have been called not to stay where we are, not to stay like spiritual infants. We have been given a mandate to pay attention to our spiritual growth and to grow up in faith.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church talks about this. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul talks about the danger of remaining as spiritual infants and failing to thrive in our spiritual growth and development. Paul had planted this church in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In fact he had spent about three years in this city preaching, teaching and helping establish this new church.
Unlike some of his letters, Paul has no specific occasion or problem that he is writing to address. This is a letter that describes what it means and what it looks like to live as a follower of Christ. In the first three chapters, Paul reminds the readers of where there were before knowing God, alienated from him, dead to sin, and how we find acceptance in Jesus Christ. He talks about God’s goodness and the incredible salvation they have. And in chapter 4, Paul now encourages to live a life worthy of Christ.
The Problem of Immaturity
As you read Ephesians 4:11-16, did you catch the key words Paul uses to talk about how we are to value movement, taking steps toward maturity, to becoming more like Christ. Paul uses the word..equip, built up, until we reach, become mature, attaining, no longer infants, grow, mature, grows, builds up. In six short verses there are ten references to our need to grow up. The problem for some of us, is we have a Toys R Us mentality. I don’t want to grow up!
Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that it wasn’t necessary. We were either told it or possibly taught it, but somewhere we got in our heads that salvation was enough. All you needed to do was repeat this prayer and then go and live your life however you want and all is good. We think that salvation is the end result. When in reality, salvation isn’t the end, it is just the beginning!
Paul is telling us that it is important that we see movement in our lives. That we experience spiritual growth. That we look back at our lives and see progress. But there is another problem with how we interpret this. Not only do we equate salvation as the end and so think there is nothing else to do, but when we feel like we need to do something, we have extremes. For some, we assume just coming to church once a week or once every three weeks is what is needed to grow.
We come to church and think as long as I am here, I must be growing. After all, there are some AMAZING sermons at Ashworth Road every week! 🙂
Or if we think one sermon isn’t enough, we fill our lives with every possible Bible study. Surely sitting under Biblical teaching every waking moment of my life will produce growth. We do a lot of listening, but very little of anything else.
Another problem area for us is that we equate busyness with growth. We fill our lives with every type of social justice cause, we serve in every ministry of the church, 24-7-365. The problem is that we can have a tremendous amount of activity, a tremendous amount of teaching and learning, a lot of busyness in our lives, but not a lot of growth happening. Not a lot of change going on. Not a lot of becoming like Christ happening.
Just think about it, when it comes to your spiritual life, if you were to compare today to the day you first met Jesus, that day you said I am following Jesus, and compared yourself then to today, would there be any noticeable difference? Yes, you may be more active in church. You might be much busier. But can you see growth? Have you taken steps to move closer to Jesus. To look more like Jesus.
A Mandate to Grow
I think this is another misconception when it comes to spiritual growth. And that is this, for some, we say “If God wants me to grow, then God, make me grow. Well, I’m not really growing, so God must not want me to grow.” But can we think about this idea for a second.
Most of us love babies. They are cute. Adorable. When you have a baby, and that baby rolls over for the first time, when they smile at you for the first time, and I mean really smile at you not the gassy smile they do very early on, when they roll over and sit up, and begin to crawl, and then walk. We ooo and ahh over it. We smile and laugh and celebrate those milestones. It’s cute.
But how heartbreaking is it when we see a 21 year old with the mind of an infant. We no longer say how cute. We begin using words like sad. Tragic. Because we expect, we want to see people grow up and mature.
As a dad, it is awesome and amazing to watch the transformation that has occurred in my not-so-little girl now, Hannah, who will graduate this year from High School and go off this summer to spend a year in a mission internship in London. I have loved watching her develop into an amazing young woman who loves God.
Sometimes we see this failure to grow up not just mentally, but in other ways. The fifty year old that dresses like a 12 year old. I like to dress as nicely as the next guy, but there is a reason you don’t see me in skinny jeans. Mainly because no one wants to see me in skinny jeans. Even me! And if by some miraculous event you did see me wearing those, you wouldn’t say, “Oh look at how cute Brent looks today.” No, you would say, “What is wrong with him!!! Doesn’t he know he is too old for that!” “Brent, Grow up! Those jeans are not made for you.” When you have anything that can roll over the top of them, you are not made for skinny jeans! You all know that person. Some of you have that friend. Some of you may even BE that person!
hen we see the person dressing to young, acting too young, we think what are you doing? And no one thinks it is cute. And we begin to wonder what has caused their arrested development. And yet, that is where some of us are stuck. And I am sorry if this is offensive, but it isn’t cute. It is a problem.
And unlike children who will virtually grow up physically without doing anything about it, you cannot be passive in your spiritual growth. You will not grow if you don’t do something about it.
A baby can’t help but be a baby. But there is a point when it is time to grow up and stop being a baby.
In this passage, Paul writes that we have an obligation to grow up, to move, to take steps toward spiritually, to no longer be infants. We must grow up. We must mature. Both as human beings and as Christians. And to do so, we must expect something of ourselves. We can’t sit back and say God mature me. We must be involved in the process. Paul tells us we have been give all the tools we need to make it happen. Will we pick them up and use them or will we be content to live in spiritual infancy?
Now, let me clarify one thing here. I am not talking about salvation. I am not saying you do this to earn God’s favor or his salvation. We don’t get faith by working. But as James says in his book, we reveal our faith by what we do. And if we aren’t seeing or striving for spiritual growth, we have to ask what that says about our faith. So if we are to grow up and mature in faith, what does that look like?
What Maturity Looks Like
Well, we begin with an understanding that everyone begins as a child in the faith. No one starts out knowing everything or doing everything right. But there are a lot of parallels we can draw between physical childhood and spiritual childhood.
For one, children, for the most part, are clueless. They live in a fog of ignorance and they are happy that way. They are impressionable. They are defenseless, unable to protect themselves.
When we stay this way spiritually, we find ourselves the same way. Clueless, easily swayed and misled. Quick to follow any teaching regardless if it is grounded in truth or not.
Paul in this Ephesians passage describes it as unstable, lacking direction, vacillating, open to manipulation. Tossed back and forth by whatever wind is the strongest or most popular. We see in other places in the Bible as well were spiritual growth is talked about. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul tells that church that he wants to address them as people who live by the Spirit, but he can’t because they look more like the people of the world than the people of God. He says they are worldly and he describes their jealousy and fighting, their grumbling about things happening as infantile behavior.
Later in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes maturity like this, ”When I was a child, 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.” In the book of 1 John, John writes about what different stages of development can look like. In 1John 1:12-14, he says children know their sins have been forgiven and know the Father. Adolescents are strong, they have taken the word of God to heart, and have overcome the evil one. And John says that those who are mature in faith, know him who is from the beginning. You know Jesus. And to know him isn’t just about their mental knowledge of him, but about their experience with him.
The writer of Hebrews talks about how those who have matured should be able to take what they know and share it with others. Hebrews 5:12 says, “by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.”
Maturity looks different for different people. Just like kids grow up at different paces and different times, so do we. For some, maturity means leaving some things behind. Things that are keeping you trapped in sin. Things that are causing you to stumble. For others it means getting more into God’s word or prayer. To really begin to know it. But for others, you know it and it is time to stop sitting around in circles talking about it all the time and get out there and live it.
For some, it means becoming a better spouse. Or a better parent. For some it mean being more faithful or more available for God to use. To create margin in your life. Still others might need to become more generous.
In Ephesians 4:15, we read we should be able to “Speak the truth in love…” That isn’t just talking about the words that come out of our mouths. What Paul is saying here is that we reach a level of maturity when we don’t just read the Bible or listen to sermons, but we LIVE OUT the truth of the Bible. As Paul says, “attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Christ is the source of everything we do.
And ultimately, we must ask ourselves do I look more like Jesus today than I did before? Are you more loving? Are you more patient and kind? Are you more joyful, gentle and humble? And does anyone look at your life and say, “What has happened to you? My, how you have changed!”
And your spiritual maturity directly affects us as a church. At the end of our passage, we read about how we as a body are built up in love. Joined together, growing as a church, toward maturity. To reveal Jesus to the world. And as I read somewhere this week, until people are growing and changing, the church isn’t functioning.
What’s Your Next Step?
What helps us mature is when we recognize our childishness. When we take a look and realize how we used to be and see the problem in that. Kids never acknowledge their childish behavior. When we start growing up, we do. And when we value movement, growing more like Christ, more than our childish immaturity, only then will be see change occurring in our lives.
As we think about this, we must answer the question “Will we begin to move and take that next step in maturity or will we be content with failing to thrive?” As a church, we say, we value movement, moving forward and taking the next step in spiritual growth. It is a core value, something we will continually talk about because we realize that most people don’t think about it.
We need to take some time, ask the Holy Spirit of God to reveal to us what is my next step. Identify it. Write it down. We can’t take a year to figure it out. In fact, if we are honest, most of us probably know right now what it is. It is different for everyone, but you know what God has been speaking to you about. You know what area you need to move in next.
For some it is praying more or even learning how to pray. For some it is learning more about the Bible. For others it is to stop studying the Bible so much and put it into practice. For some it is baptism, showing the world that you have decided to follow Jesus. And for others it is to commit to Ashworth Road and join us in membership to help see God’s kingdom revealed in this world.
Some need mentoring. Others need connection in a small group. And some of you need to answer the call and step up into a leadership role here and say, “How can I help lead?”
As a church, we are working to develop tools to help you take your next step. In a few weeks we are offering a training called Learn to Share that will equip you in how to share your story with those around you. We offer spiritual formation experiences. In the fall, we will roll out Discipleship Groups, groups of three or four people who meet regularly to encourage each other, and challenge each other to grow in faith.
We will continue to offer tools, but you have to be willing to take that step. Will you commit yourself to movement and say I will take the step necessary to grow in my faith and become all God wants me to be so Ashworth Road will be all that God wants us to be? Not content with failure to thrive but valuing movement, to become like Christ in everything we say and do.