Grace and peace are always for you from God our Father and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you want to be when you grow up? We often ask that question of children. But if it is asked of us as adults, we might be perplexed, unless the question were directed to the spiritual part of our lives. Are you spiritually all grown up?
Have you ever met someone who never grew up? Their body aged, they found a job, got married, and had a family, but emotionally they were immature, irresponsible, undisciplined, undependable, self-centered, underdeveloped. I wonder sometimes if God’s people in Christ’s Church are Peter Pan Christians. Remember what he said, “I’ll never grow up.”
We might not consciously say it, but the reality of how we live floating in our spiritual lives without a committed intentionality of maturing has the same result. We never fully develop into the people God created us to be. In Philippians chapter 3, Paul said, “I want to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. I press on that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ.”
A parable is told of an American Indian who stole an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life this changeling eagle thought he was a prairie chicken. He did what prairie chickens did. He scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. He clucked and cackled. He flew in brief thrashing of wings and flurry of feathers no more than a few feet off the ground. After all, that’s how prairie chickens fly.
Years passed and the changeling eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird far above them in the cloudless sky hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents. The bird soared with scarcely a beat of his strong, golden wings. “What a beautiful bird!” said the changeling eagle to his neighbor. “What is that?”
“Oh, that’s an eagle, the chief of birds,” the neighbor clucked. “But don’t give it a second thought. You could never be like him.” So the changeling eagle never gave it another thought, and he died acting and thinking he was a prairie chicken.
God has given us new birth by faith in Jesus Christ intending for us to grow up to become fully developed men and women of faith impacting the world for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Today we read the story of Jesus at age twelve in the Temple. He had been separated from his parents for a few days. Jesus is discussing the things of God with the scholars, theologians, and spiritual leaders of His time. I think we can learn a number of key truths about spiritual maturity from this story of Jesus.
The first truth is, when we seek God, He will open our heart and mind. After all, discipleship means learning from the Master. It includes a receptivity to learn and a seeking to understand. God doesn’t want churches filled with parrots – people who speak the correct truth, know the creeds, the doctrines of the church but never understand their impact for life or apply those profound truths to our real life ethics. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek – but, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.” Better an honest cynic wrestling with the tough questions of life related to suffering or sickness or death or tragedy in the light of an all-loving God than an apathetic pew sitter who never invites God’s Spirit to lead him on a daily basis.
I think about Joni Eareckson Tada, who as a young teenage girl had a diving accident and has lived her whole life from a wheelchair. She has gone on to write multiple books and is well sought after as a Christian speaker – even a singer. The impact she has had to share how faith and suffering go together and her insights into how God is alive and at work in a world because of her unique journey of suffering!
So Jesus is in the Temple surrounded by scholars, teachers, and religious leaders. He takes seriously the faith traditions without being bound to them. He’s not a lone wolf pioneering His own course. He is seeking God among God’s people. He listens to their wisdom, their experiences, and their convictions, but then He filters them through His own knowledge and conviction as the Child of God. Our first truth toward spiritual maturity: Seek God with an open heart and mind.
The second quality of journeying toward spiritual maturity is to enter into the discipline and rhythm of the Word of God and worship. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Jesus is in the Temple to worship and hear the Word of God. He’s not there begrudgingly or tuned out about what the experience means. He’s delighted to be in God’s presence and worship, like a flowering blossom stretches to the light. The psalmist said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Vince Lombardi once had this to say: “The man who is on top of a mountain didn’t fall there.” He means that to get to the top of the mountain takes commitment and effort. We need to enter into the rhythm and discipline of the Word of God and worship to meet God where He’s promised to be.
When Moses came down from the mountaintop, his face was glowing from having been in the presence of God. The Jewish ruling council, according to Acts chapter 4, took note that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Like the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites who gathered manna every day, there is an ongoing dependence to interface and receive from God daily.
Each of you has potential, a God-given ability. It is a gift of God, but it must be developed, trained. It must be coached and disciplined to become all God intended for you to be. The second quality toward spiritual maturity: Enter into the rhythm and discipline of the Word of God and worship.
The third quality in the journey toward spiritual maturity is to surrender to authority and live in obedience. After Jesus’ three-day separation from His parents, when Mary found Jesus in the Temple, she anxiously said to Him, “Your father and I have been looking for you.”
Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business,” meaning His heavenly Father. Yet the story says clearly that Jesus submitted to their position with respect. He went with them back to Nazareth and in subjection, in obedience to them. At times it must’ve been hard. Jesus knew all things, yet He obeyed His parents.
Now we can apply this truth to boys and girls living under the authority of their parents. Even if they think their parents are wrong, they’re not entitled to rebel or disobey or disregard their parents’ voice. The fourth commandment says, “Honor your father and mother that you may live long in the land of the Lord your God.” It’s also true of students at school and of employees in the workplace living with a difficult teacher or boss or coach. Unless they order us to violate our own faith in God, we live under their authority. Jesus learned obedience as if it were submitting to God Himself. It’s an inseparable part of spiritual maturity, and it was critical to Jesus’ mission.
It is also true of us in the authority of the Word of God, the Scriptures. It is not easy to always live in obedience to God’s Word. It means that we, as people, often live radically counter culturally to the society in which we live, and yet God asks us to live in surrender to His authority, in obedience to Him. The third quality toward spiritual maturity: Surrender to God’s authority; live in obedience.
The fourth quality is to sink our roots deep into the love of God. Jesus knew who His Father was, where He had come from, and where He was going. He knew His purpose, His calling, His identity. He knew the One to whom He would always belong, and He sunk His roots into that identity as He lived His mission.
I have a picture in my pastor’s office of my father Oscar Laaveg’s seminary class in 1940. It was at Luther Seminary at Gullixson Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota with his classmates and professors. It hangs in my study as a reminder of my heritage, the seed bed of my faith, and how I am firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.
I cherish that gift from my parents. I was raised in a home that loved Jesus Christ and taught me about Him. Who could forget a mother kneeling by their bedside, laying hands on their body, and asking Jesus to anoint and heal?
It also reminds me of truths like the Word Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone. Haven’t you seen a singular tree standing on the open prairie, withstanding the storms and the elements through the years? Growing ever taller, it towers over the prairie below. The secret is it’s deep roots in soil. Colossians 2:6-7 says, “As you’ve received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him firmly rooted and built up in Him in your faith.” Our roots sink deep into the love and grace of the Lord Jesus. The fourth quality of spiritual maturity: Sink your roots deep into God’s love.
The fifth quality is to embrace the responsibility of doing our Father’s business. Nothing could detour Jesus from the purpose in His life His Father had given Him. There is a story of an American visiting France. He came to the place where a large church was being erected. He approached three stonemasons on that job site, one after the other and asked, “What are you doing?”
The first one said, “I’m cutting stone.”
The second one said, “I’m working for a few francs a day.”
But the third one said, “I’m helping to build a great cathedral.”
Whatever your work, whatever your life journey, you are to be about your heavenly Father’s business in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus, from the cross, said, “It is finished.” He meant He had completed His Father’s business.
When I was a pastor in North Dakota, I taught confirmation to a young boy who had cerebral palsy. His name was John. We had delightful sessions together. One week when we met for our teaching time, I asked John what was his favorite thing to do in the world. Without blinking an eye he said, “Clean the barn on Saturday mornings.”
“Really?” I said. “You mean, shovel manure out of the barn?”
“Yup! I get to work beside my father.”
It was his joy to work side-by-side with his father, whatever the task. The joy was his relationship with his father.The fifth quality of spiritual maturity: embrace the responsibility of doing our Father’s business.
- We are to grow up as the people of God.
- We are to seek the things of God with an open heart and an open mind.
- We are to discipline ourselves in the rhythm of worship and the Word.
- We are to surrender to authority and live in obedience.
- We are to sink our roots deep into the love of God.
Most of all, we are saved by Jesus Christ to not only be forgiven, but also to be set apart, to be about our Father’s business.
Time to grow up! Amen.
Pastor Lee Laaveg