Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oh, Grow Up!

I was remembering this week a foster kid we had while I was growing up.  Some of you will remember that my family took lots of foster kids over the years.  Eddie is the one who popped into my mind.

Eddie was four years old when he came to live with us.  I think I was in middle school.  When the folks dropped him off they told us what they told us about almost every child we ever took – “This child is severely mentally retarded.  He will never be able to learn or function in any normal way.”  We also learned that Eddie (the name we gave him because he didn’t have one) had been in a different foster home since he’d been born.  At the age of four, Eddie had never been out of a crib; he couldn’t crawl or walk; he had never had a hair cut; he wasn’t potty trained, he didn’t talk; and he had never had anything for nourishment except baby formula from a bottle.  (I think I’ve told you about Eddie before.  I’m making a different point this time…I hope) 

Anyway, Eddie had lived four years with baby formula only and minimal human contact.  He was still living life as a newborn.  He had made almost no progress emotionally, intellectually or physically since the day his was born.  Sure, his body itself was four years old…but nothing else had changed at all.

Do you know any Christians like that?  Have you been a Christian like that?  Newborn Christians are as exciting and miraculous as newborn babies…full of hopes and promise.   And we have to be just a careful and tender with newborn Christians as with babies.  Babies don’t start right out eating (veggie)steak and fri-chick; they start out with something they can digest.  But if you never feed a growing child anything but milk, his body may grow, but he won’t have the energy to learn how to sit-up, crawl, or walk.  And if nobody ever interacts with the baby, he doesn’t learn to talk or respond to humans in anyway.  That’s what happened to Eddie.

The good news is that Eddie learned to eat good food, to talk, walk, and seemed on track to being a regular kid by the time he was adopted.  What about you and me?  Are we on the way to becoming mature Christians?

As Adventists, we probably made our initial commitment to Christ because we were convinced, intellectually.  Adventist preachers and evangelists work very hard, for the most part, to play down the emotional aspects of conversion.  Mrs. White urges us to not be swayed by emotional appeals.  I understand the need for caution.  You’ve probably seen TV evangelists who work their audiences into emotional frenzy and then makes his appeal for Christ.  We might feel uncomfortable with that approach, but it can be quite effective.  Either way, the baby Christian has made a choice to follow Jesus, and that’s a good thing.  The problem is, that, in both cases, the conversion is one-sided.

Someone who has come to Christ based on their conviction that what they have learned is the truth may continue to come to church for the rest of his (or her) life and never take the next step – falling in love with Jesus.  On the other hand, the person who responded to the emotional appeal, will keep coming to church, as long as the church continues to provide emotionally charged services every week.  Both converts are, like newborn babies, completely reliant on what the church feeds them for their continued commitment to Jesus.

Have you ever noticed a baby who is about four or five months old who is just ready to graduate from milk only to food?  Does anybody have to convince them that they are ready for food?  If that baby is sitting where he (or she) can see people eating, he’s probably “looking the food right out of their mouths”, as my father used to say.  He knows he’s ready to take the next step, and he’s eager to start.  Now, he may not like everything you try to give him, and (based on my own experience) if you start with the wrong food, you may have problems, but, for the most part, whatever you offer him, he’s going to take. 

Or, we could look back at Eddie.  I’m sure there was a time for him, when he was four or five months old, that he would have been interested in trying food, if someone had offered it to him.  But when no one did, he lost interest. 

That can happen with baby Christians too.  At some point, we have to move beyond depending on the pastor and/or church for our spiritual food.  The pastor’s (church’s) job is not to keep feeding formula to baby Christians, but to inspire them learn how to spiritually feed themselves.  Church is the appetizer or the dessert, not the meal.

So, how do we get from newborn to born again?  By being hungry to learn more about Jesus.  By getting to know Jesus as a friend.  Everything I read this week brought it down to this:  communication.  Communication is what builds all relationships.

Jesus communicates with us through the Bible, right? He teaches us about Himself, about what He has done for us and what He wants to do.  By reading the Bible we learn who Jesus is.

We communicate with God by praying.  Now, I know that Jesus doesn’t really need for us to pray.  He knows what we’re thinking, what we need, what we want, and what we’re feeling.  But when we pray, we are using our free will to choose to open the door of communication between ourselves and God.  He could just take control of everything so that we didn’t need to pray…but then our free will would be gone.  Plus, talking to people we have relationships with is something we enjoy doing, right?  It’s part of being in the relationship.  Haven’t you had friends that you could talk to for hours and hours?  You looked forward to the opportunity to sit with them and do just that.

A lot of people stop right there.  They read their Bible and pray.  Those are the folks who say that they don’t need to come to church because God can be with them everywhere.  They’re right, but they’re also missing a huge opportunity for growing up as a Christian.  Meeting together with other Christians is huge!  
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
God created us to enjoy—need, interaction with other people, and when most of our time during the week is spent with folks who don’t share our love for Jesus, it is really wonderful to come together with others who believe the way we do on Sabbath.  In fact, I’ve know folks who enjoy coming to church just because of the social opportunities, not so much for the spiritual ones. 

Anyway, the last component of growing in Jesus, for me, is the hardest one.  We need to communicate with people who don’t know Jesus personally.  We all have different strengths and gifts for telling others about our love for Jesus.  I don’t have the same gifts you have, but we all need to share what Jesus has done for us with someone who needs to hear it.  Do you want to be a grown up Christian?  I do.  There are really just four steps:  read the Bible, pray, spend time with people who love Jesus, and tell people who don’t know Jesus about Him.

That sounds easy, doesn’t it – on paper.  In real life there are so many things that get in the way; Satan makes sure of that.  But, I believe, that when we ask God to make Him our “one, consuming passion” He will answer that prayer by giving us exactly what we need.
“ If the follower of Christ would grow up ‘unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), he must eat of the bread of life and drink of the water of salvation.  He must watch and pray and work, in all things giving heed to the instructions of God in His words.”  Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles,  pp. 284-285.

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