Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spiritual Growth: My Part & God's Part

This Fourth of July weekend was a true summer holiday here in the Northland. Blue skies and sunshine, and a laid back airy lightness seeped into our service. Pastor Brad greeted us with his usual warmth and transparent big-heartedness, leading into the service with a brief tip of the hand to our theme today. When it comes to spiritual growth, what is God's part and what is my part?

Chief among the announcements was that after the service on August 2 we will all re-convene at Walt and Gwen Cresman's home across Grand Lake for an afternoon of fellowship, boating and more. Be sure to mark your calendars.

The quartet led us into worship today with Change My Heart, Oh God. All their faces shone extra from having gathered so much sunlight the last couple days.

After worship and the offering, Brad read today's Scriptures:
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
II Corinthians 12:2-10

Spiritual Growth: My Part & God's Part

Brad, as you know, has a sense of humor and began today's sermon with a little story which was essentially fiction but told as if true. He said that psychologists note one of the most common area of conflict in marriage has to do with the division of labor. (That part was not fiction) Who's job is it really to take out the garbage or change the diapers? When Brooke and Brad got married, he said to her, "What's the one thing you wish you didn't have to do?" and she said it's cleaning the bathrooms because no matter how often you do it they just get dirty again. Brad affirmed, "Don't a finger. You don't even have to think about the bathrooms any more."

For a year she didn't. Didn't lift a finger. Brad said he didn't either and they were a mess, but the division of labor deal was straight.

Actually, when it comes to Christian growth, this division of labor issue is really a critical issue for many Christians. To illustrate, Brad shared three images on the screen this morning. The first was a canoe with a paddle. The canoe is a symbol of self-sufficiency. "I'm going to make it on my own," we tell ourselves.

Christian growth becomes a contest... to see who can memorize the most Scriptures, fast the longest, pray the most, etc. Brad shared how competing in a Scripture memorization competition while in a youth group called the Whirl-i-birds led to his having very un-Christian thoughts toward the kid who won this game.

In Jesus' day it was the Pharisees who most exemplified this self-righteous, self-sufficient attitude. The end result is pride when we're successful at what we achieve, and guilt when we fail.

The second image was of an inner tube on the water. It is a passive approach that is especially useless. We expect God to do it all, so we just wait in the water and drift, expecting someone else to do it all for us. This attitude has actually become doctrine in some circles where it is flatly stated that grace is opposed to human effort. If grace is opposed to human effort, then I had best not do anything at all. Trust God to complete His work in me.

Brad told a story about a woman who's spiritual fruit was attained simply by claiming it. She wakes up in the morning and just "claims joy." No need to tedious Bible study or understanding or any spiritual disciplines at all.

But sanctification is not really this simple. And for a better image Brad showed us a wind surfer. Wind surfing takes a little more skill than tubing, but it is the best picture of what our Christian life look like. Brad based his illustration on the Scriptural insight offered by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:8 "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

First, the wind surfer knows that if he is going to get anywhere it comes as a gift. He has no means to propel himself, yet he is anything but passive. He has to use discernment to determine where the wind is blowing. And he needs to know how to balance his body, and adjust his sail to align himself with where the win is at work.

It's not the same as the paddling where you just barge ahead. You have to get in tune with the bigger forces at work around you.

After a pair of examples Brad asked two questions. (1) Where is the wind of the Spirit at work in my life? (2) What's the practice that is likely to produce fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) in me?

Examples of spiritual disciplines with proven value include the study of Scripture, worship, writing a letter to God pouring out one's heart, intercessory prayer, sacrifice, spiritual friendship, and even trials.

In closing Brad again underscored these two important questions. Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing in your life? And the question you should be asking the Lord: God, how do you want me to respond to it?

After the message we shared in Communion.

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