Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Necessity to Grow

I know of someone who recently has walked away from their faith. This was a person who some years back was serving and living a life that was exemplary when it came to being a Christian. However, over the last couple of years, I began to see that this life began to wane and he did not take his relationship with God very seriously over these last years. Slowly over time, it began to show, and not only with the obvious outward signs. Sadly, with this and since that time, he has made many poor decisions which has not only impacted him negatively, but his family as well. It's been a little bit like watching a train wreck.

With that, I have been thinking about how dangerous it can be not to grow as a Christian, which essentially means to not have Jesus at the center of your life on a daily basis. And yet, this happens all the time. Sadly, in general, the church today places such emphasis on evangelism, "getting people saved and into heaven," but too often focus too little on discipleship—learning how to live a life with Jesus. The Barna Group has some staggering statistics, confirming the fact that the church is good at “making converts, but not disciples:”
  • When Christian adults were asked to identify their most important goal for their life, not a single person said it was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ, or to make disciples of Christ. 
  • Less than one out of every five born again adults had any specific and measurable goals related to their personal spiritual development. 
  • Less than 1% of all believers perceived a connection between their efforts to worship God and their development as a disciple of Jesus.
  • The most widely-known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"—which is not actually in the Bible, and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.
But as each of us knows--living for Jesus every day--this is really where life begins, not when you say the sinner’s prayer. Life is always continuing and we need to move with it. Often in Christian circles, over time, being reflective and deliberate about our relationship with God is put to the side. For whatever reason, people tend to stagnate rather than thrive after making a commitment of faith. The questions don’t get asked. Masks begin to be worn. We play the part, but don’t really know the role we should be playing as it relates to being a Christian.

Living like a Christian is easy, being in relationship with God is a whole different matter. This is what Jesus was talking about when you build something on sand. I learned quickly in my own life, that if you have any amount of biblical knowledge, watch out. You eventually will become the expert, the guru. People will perceive that you have it all together, everything is in place, and you and God must be best buds. But all of this can be perilous, because it allows or forces ourselves to not be who really are. In the end, we paint ourselves into a corner to which there is no escape. Because we have played the role of the well-behaved churchgoer, we don't know how to play any other. Sadly, I know this from first-hand experience from years past.

But knowledge is never the standard for relationship and too often in the church, this is what we emphasize. It’s easy to know a lot about someone; it’s a whole new thing to know someone. This makes sense—it’s much more easy and comfortable to just know about someone, simply knowing the facts (e.g., "she works at a hospital, likes to eat salads at lunch, has three kids, and drives a Black Toyota Sienna."). There’s distance and safety and very little mess. Knowing just the facts about someone does not mean you know them. Lots of us know a lot about a whole bunch of people, but it goes about as far as that. It's the idea of the a mile wide, but an inch deep. For some, it can be a rarity that we have genuinely deep and strong friendships. We keep people at bay, at a safe distance and we don’t go too deep.

But we need to move beyond just knowledge—we need to know. John Wesley once wrote, “Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame, if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.” In that statement, Wesley was saying that it was disgraceful if he hadn’t grown beyond where he once stood in terms of knowing God. We need to keep moving on as well, being restless and asking for more. This should be the end goal. I think C.S. Lewis said it in the most direct way possible:

Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature -- either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

Those are strong and difficult words, but they are so true. Yogi Berra said it in a similar way, but in a way only he could: If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else. As Christians, we need to continually change and grow and move beyond just knowing about God and genuinely encounter him. At the end of the day, we need to know where we are headed.

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