The Measure of Spiritual Maturity

Charles Kraft

The measure of spiritual maturity is how quickly you can admit your need for the help and grace of God.

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The God Who Has a Plan

Ephesians 1
Ajith Fernando

Most people come to Christ to get a personal need met. Often we continue to view God as being primarily about meeting our needs. But God is the sovereign Creator. He is bigger than meeting our needs.  In fact, some of our needs won’t be met as we’d like.  He is not just the God who meets needs but the God who has a plan for the whole universe.

Link: Complete Sermon

Dominion Lost

Genesis 1:28

[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Originally, man was meant to have dominion over the earth.  We are uncomfortable with words like subdue and dominion because it sounds like humans are meant to be oppressive dictators over the rest of creation.

However, Adam was not to be a dictator, but a steward.  He had no authority that had not been given to him.  He could not do whatever he pleased with God’s creation.  With God’s intention in mind, we realize that in the beginning Adam was not called to be a gardener but a protector.  His original call was to defend the creation, his wife, and the honor of God by defeating the serpent.  Instead, he did nothing as the serpent deceived his wife.  Adam did not destroy the serpent but agreed with him and joined forces with him against God, opening the door to sin and death.

After the fall, mankind would still like to believe that we are in charge.  My children are convinced that they are in charge of our house.  No one had to teach them this and it is with great difficulty that we teach them that they are not.  We are born this way.

And that is especially sad because we are not in charge.  We are not in charge of when we are born or when we will die.  We are not in charge of what will happen to us or how exactly our children will turn out.  In fact, we are not even in charge of ourselves.

Romans 7:18b-19

…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. [19] For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Man was to have dominion over all creatures and even the earth itself.  Now, we have dominion over nothing.  We are not masters but slaves to our passions and circumstances.  This is bad news, but when we can admit that this is true, the Gospel becomes very good news.

John 8:36

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The Image of God

Genesis 1:26a

[26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…

Man and woman are made in the image and likeness of God.  When our children look like us we are proud.  We may feel differently if a pigeon or a ferret resemble us, yet despite the infinite distance between us, God chooses to make man in His own image.

No other creature is made in the image of God.  Lions are regal and powerful, but they are not made in God’s image.  Eagles are majestic and graceful, but they are not made in God’s image.  Angels never grow old and have a glory that causes people who see them to bow, but even they are not made in the image of God.  There is a special value to humanity.

Everyone does not agree on this point.  PETA President Ingrid Newkirk once said, “When it comes to feelings like hunger, pain, and joy, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”  I’d imagine her intention was to increase the value of animals, but a statement like this instead ends up devaluing human beings.

In Genesis 9:6, God says “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”  The value of human life is directly related to the fact that man is created in God’s image.  When we believe humans have no special dignity – that we are simply a mass of cells or an accident of evolution – human life means very little.

And we see the fruit of this.  In our world, more than a million children are victims of sex-trafficking every year.  The leading cause of death in America is not heart disease, but abortion.  In America alone, one million children are killed in the womb every year.

A little boy or little girl is not a pig or a rat, but the crowning achievement of God’s creation.  When one person repents, all of heaven rejoices.  The value of human life and the human soul is immeasurable, for all people are made in the very image of God.

God is Awake

Sarah Albrecht

When we respond to our fears by trying to take on the attributes of God – like, for example, omniscience and omnipresence – we will be plagued by restlessness. We think we are taking control by thinking about all the possible precautions against robbers (and there is no harm in being responsible in locking our house – so long as our trust and hope is in the Lord and not in a deadbolt) breaking in or by staying awake and looking in every place. Yet, in reality, instead of controlling the situation, we become controlled and enslaved by fear.

Omnipresence and omniscience aren’t the only attributes of God that we are tempted to take on.

We try to control situations by demanding perfect justice when we are wronged. We refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit can and is working in the hearts of men. We sacrifice relationships because people do not meet our expectations.

We try to be self-sufficient – planning for ever possible circumstance or by refusing help when we really need it. We judge people who can’t get it together. We miss out on being blessed by God through others.

We try to be perfect and good and never sin on our own accord. Instead, we become self-righteous. We are controlled by what others think of us and keeping up the image of perfection rather than trusting in Christ for our salvation. We know deep down that we are fakes. We worry that God knows this and is out to get us.

When we try to be God, we will always fail. We will quickly grow weary, and our souls will not be at peace. We feel the burden of the ultimate sin of pride when we think that we can do God’s job better than He can.

The Bible says, in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Created

Genesis 1:26-27

[26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

[27] So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

There are many, diverse opinions on the true nature of the human race.  Depending on who you ask, we are either godlike beings who will bring in a utopian society or we are like locusts or a virus, selfishly destroying everything.

This passage says we are neither.  Men and women were made by God, not creators but created.  Men and women are made in the image of God, not a virus but privileged above all other creatures.

A Sense of God

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

Our culture presents us with forms of prayer that are mostly self-expression – pouring ourselves out before God or lifting our gratitude to God as we feel the need and have the occasion.  Such prayer is dominated by a sense of self.  But prayer, mature prayer, is dominated by a sense of God.  Prayer rescues us from a preoccupation with ourselves and pulls us into adoration of and pilgrimage to God.

As the Father Sent Me

[21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

– John 20:19-23

When you were a child, were you told that you can be anything you want as long as you work hard and believe in yourself?  If so, someone lied to you. haha

Of course, working hard is good and having ambition is good, but I cannot be anything I want to be.  A sample of things I cannot be include president of France, an NBA player, and an astrophysics professor.

There are many, many things we can be, but we can’t be anything we want.  However, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be everything that God wants us to be and God calls His followers to be things we would never dream of being apart from Him

We are tempted to think that Jesus loves, saves, and blesses us so we can do whatever we want with our lives as long as we try to be good people.  But blessing is not to be used however we please.

Verse 21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  When the Father sent the Son to live among us, He said more than “Have fun!”  The Father had a purpose and plan for Jesus, and Jesus understood this.

John 4:34  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

John 5:30  “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 6:38  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

As the Father sent Jesus with purpose, so He send us with purpose.  The question, then, becomes what is His purpose?

Verse 23 reads, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus does not give Christians the power to say to those who want God’s forgiveness, “No forgiveness for you!  I don’t like you!”  Rather, this verse is saying that those who believe in Jesus are given the power and privilege of telling people about the way of salvation and forgiveness, the only path of being right with God.

What is the greatest thing you could ever accomplish?  Being a millionaire?  Being respected by all?  Being comfortable?  These are not bad goals necessarily, but if it’s the ultimate goal of our lives, it’s too small.  God Almighty invites His children to be in the business of eternal life, of calling people from every country, every race, every people group to worship the one, true, and living God.

BIG

[15] As I [Peter] began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. [16] And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ [17] If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” [18] When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

– Acts 11:15-18

The Holy Spirit, the gift of God that was given to the apostles at Pentecost, is given to Gentiles!  Peter was there, yet even he sounds shocked.  The Jerusalem church is so amazed that awkward silence fills the room before they can process what has happened and properly glorify God.

See Gentiles are people who largely did not know, let alone follow, the Mosaic Law.  Traditionally, they were actively opposed to God and His people.  For generations, Israel has assumed that the Messiah would come and crush the Gentiles.  Yet the Spirit of God falls on them; God Himself dwells in their hearts.

A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon with a few of my church members.  I had gone as a child and had a vague recollection of it, but when I looked into the canyon, I was stunned.  I realized I had no idea what “big” meant.

In our passage, the people of God are slowly beginning to realize that the good news of Jesus Christ is big.  Before Jesus came, many Israelites imagined salvation was about military conquest.  The Jerusalem church has a larger view, understanding that Jesus has come to grant not temporal but eternal blessing.

With the salvation of Cornelius’s household, the purpose of God extends beyond the individual or a particular ethnicity to include every tribe, nation and tongue.  The salvation of God includes even former enemies of God.  All peoples of the earth are to be a part of His Kingdom.

At times, salvation can be reduced to personal piety and well-being.  While Jesus is certainly concerned about both, His purpose is far larger.  Even as we labor in our local communities and love the people who are actually, physically present around us, we do so in light of the new heavens and new earth, the final defeat of sin and death, and the in gathering of worshipers from every era and every nation that is coming soon.

He Chose

[28] After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

– John 19:28-30

Some things are not our choice.  They just happen to us.  I was born in southern California.  I am a boy.  I am short.  I did not choose these things.

The cross is not a tragedy that happened to Jesus.  It did not surprise Him.  It was not something unfortunate, outside of His control.

On Good Friday, the crowd was not in control.  The Pharisees and scribes were not in control. Pilate was not in control.  Not even Satan himself was in control.  Jesus and Jesus alone was in control.

What does this mean?  It means you are loved.

Things that just happen to us don’t say much about what we value or what’s in our hearts.  My core value is not manhood or shortness.  It’s the things we choose that reveal what we really love.  What we choose to do with our time, money, vacation days, etc. reveal what we love.

Jesus chose all that happened to Him.  He did not have to die on a cross.  Some may say He had to because He’s God and God is supposed to do that, but it’s not true.  He had the power and right to do otherwise.  He would have been equally just, righteous, and good if He left us in our sin.

But He chose.  He chose to be flogged, mocked, rejected, and crucified.  He chose to become sin and bear the wrath of God in our place because He loves us.

The cross tells us that sin deserves death.  It tells us our Lord suffered terrible.  And it tells us that we are loved by the God of all creation.  Jesus proved it by choosing the cross.