We all yearn to witness the realization of heaven on earth, but the question remains: How does this transformation occur? Does God suddenly change us into completely new Christlike people? Will it come with a group of averagely good individuals? Or will heaven truly come to earth only when we as individuals and churches press into intentional growth into mature Christians.
This message presents and emphasizes the importance of Christlike maturity becoming an intentional pursuit of every individual and the core passion of each church. Maturity serves as the gateway to building trust, which is the currency of credibility for both individuals and churches. It creates an avenue for churches to experience sustainability and longevity.
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We start our weekend with the theme called, “The Local Church: Faithful and Flourishing.”
Now when I looked at that title, I thought, it’s a bit lofty, right? But I would like to suggest to you that it’s reachable, it’s attainable, and it’s possible.
G. K. Chesterton had this to say: “In political and social science, we often make an analogy, and it goes something like this: Our country is sick; our nation is sick; our people are sick; our economy is sick; and we are in terrible shape. But if you put me in power, I can bring healing to all the sickness plaguing this nation, and I will make it better.”
Now, there’s a very big difference between medical science and social and political science. When you go to the hospital because you’re sick, the doctors may not agree on what is causing your sickness, but all the doctors will agree on what a healthy body should look like. The hospital may send you home, by necessity, with one leg less, but they will never send you home with one leg more. When you go to a hospital and you’re sick, everyone agrees on what a healthy body should look like. They may disagree about the cause of the illness, but everyone will agree on what is a healthy body. But when it comes to social science and political science, everyone seems more than happy to agree that we’re all sick, but what they can’t agree on is, “What does a healthy society look like?” Someone comes along and says, “Here’s a solution for our sickness.” To another, “Your solution is even worse than the sickness itself that you’re seeking to solve.” Chesterton says this is where we have radically gone wrong.
The question we should be asking ourselves isn’t, “What has gone wrong?” But the question we should be asking ourselves is, “What is right? How do we do that which is right? How do we become a people that live right, act right, speak right, and walk right?” The world wants you to believe that it’s harder and harder to find that which is right. The world wants each and every one of you to truly believe in your heart that it is almost impossible, not only to find what is right, but surely impossible to do what is right.
I suggest this evening, that to find what is right is not far from where you sit. Out of this theme, “Faithful and Flourishing,” I was given an assignment for this evening. That assignment is: God’s Blueprint for Heaven on Earth.
I would again say it’s a bit lofty. However, this thought is taken from our Lord’s prayer in Matthew. Matthew 6:10:
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done.
Your Kingdom and will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Wow! How can this be?
Remember, Jesus does not present ideas to us without solutions – without showing us a path forward and giving us tools and examples of how to get there. He makes it reachable, attainable, possible, livable, and walkable. It’s something that we can ALL see, feel, and taste.
There’s a quote from Blaise Pascal that says this: “I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you.” You may say, what a strange quote to start a message off with. However, I hope that when I’m done, I can answer that for you. I hope to give you one spiritual tool tonight to take home with you, to build on – you can make it better; you can improve on it. And more importantly, that you become a remarkable living example of what it means to live, “I believe in you.” Do you know what these four words represent: “I believe in you”? They represent one word: encouragement. The power of encouragement.
Are you aware that there are many people who do not have the ability to give this gift of “I believe in you” or encouragement to others? Why are some people able to give this gift and others are not? Why do some people have the ability to communicate this gift of encouragement, and others are not? So who is capable to give this gift? I’m going to try to communicate this thought by three short personal stories that happened in my life.
As a young 18-year-old Christian, I started to attend Shippensburg Christian Fellowship. (I was 51 years old yesterday.) The pastor at the time was the late Brother Lynn Martin. And when you’re 18, adults tend to respond to you in one of two ways. Eighteen-year-olds are amazing people; they have big ideas, big visions. Their words tend to get ahead of their deeds and actions. They talk better than they live. Their ideas sound much better to them than it does to others. Because of this tendency in 18-year-olds, it’s very easy for adults to become suspicious, cynical. They tend to ignore the 18-year-olds. They just don’t have time for them. They appear not to care. And sometimes, they even become critical toward you and judgmental. And sometimes they seem to an 18-year-old to spend most of their time correcting all the 18-year-old’s.
Brother Lynn did none of these to me. He did not respond in this way. Lynn presented me with a whole new idea, and it was this: he wanted me to succeed in my Christian life. He wanted me to win as a Christian. He wanted the best for me in every thing that I did. He wanted the 18-year-old to become a mature Christian. He never said these exact words to me: “I believe in you, Kevin.” It was what he said by his deeds, actions, and encouraging words that shouted to me from the housetop: “I believe in you. I encourage you.” And that encouragement to me when I was 18 put a fire in my belly that I have never lost.
Let me ask you a question. What kind of character does it take (I’m not sure how old Lynn was at that time) for a 50-year-old to reach across the aisle and down the stairs to an upstart 18-year-old? And communicate to the 18-year-old that he is on your side, that he believes in the 18-year-old that he has what it takes to win in his Christian life. He believes the 18-year-old has what it takes to become a mature Christian. Imagine what that did for me! So I ask the question again: What kind of character does it take for a 50-year-old to reach across the aisle and down the stairs to the 18-year-old?
Maturity. I would like to suggest to you that the Christians that can reach across the aisle and down the stairs to the 18-year-olds are mature in character. Remember something tonight. Maturity has the ability to give; immaturity keeps and takes.
Let me tell you another story. He’s probably sitting in this room. I didn’t ask for his permission, and I didn’t for a reason. I don’t know how many years ago it was (I’m kind of guessing 8-10 years ago) I found myself in a low spot, and I was a bit discouraged. A couple years before, I had met a brother by the name of David Bercot. Most of you tonight probably heard of David Bercot, but most of you probably know David as a writer and a speaker. What most of you don’t have is the privilege of knowing him on a personal level and working with him day after day. You may think that David’s strength is in writing and speaking, and that is what is having a large impact on the Kingdom of God. All true.
However, I will tell you that David has a much greater strength than most of you will ever know. When I was discouraged, he had the ability to come alongside of me, and by his deeds and actions and words demonstrated to me, “I believe in you.” He walked me through it with gentleness, kindness, mercy, and longsuffering. I was encouraged. He never said these exact words to me: “I believe in you, Kevin.” What kind of character does it take for a 65-year-old to come alongside a 40-year-old and bring encouragement to him? Let me add to that, and tell you something else about David. David is an educated man; I am not. David is well-known; I am not. David is an excellent speaker; I am not. David is a great writer; I can barely speak the English language. What did he have to gain to come alongside and encourage someone like myself?
Maturity of character. Maturity gives; immaturity keeps and takes.
My final personal story:
Most of you probably know – (at least those who know me – looking at this crowd, there are probably a lot of people who don’t know me.) I have a wife, and her name is Jalee. She’s a very lovely person. If you meet her, she’s a much better person than I am. Now, I know most of you men are probably not like me, but sometimes we have this weakness, and this is my weakness. I like to sit on a big soft arm chair and talk about wonderful ideas. I get really excited about my ideas – like feeding the poor, eradicating poverty, evangelizing the world, starting churches in unknown places, starting businesses that can feed the world, starting missionary schools to teach the world. I start all these enterprises from my soft armchair. Jalee, who is my wife, sits and patiently listens, and eagerly pretends to believe in my ideas, knowing full well that I will only be able to do in part, only a few of these crazy unreachable unattainable but good ideas. After all this, if you go ask her, she still claims that she believes in me. If you don’t call that maturity of character, I don’t know what is. Maturity gives; immaturity keeps and takes.
This is what the Bible says about a mature wife (Proverbs 31:23-28 ESV).
23 Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
What do all these people in these stories share? What do they all have in common? As I suggested, I would like to bring to you – it’s maturity. It had nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with the quality of their character. All of them are living examples of maturity of character. Without maturity, none of them would have impacted my life. Remember: Maturity gives; immaturity keeps and takes.
I believe the Christians that are mature of character will be the ones who impact this world and the people around them, way more than any eloquent speaker and gifted writer and all the other ideas started on our armchairs. I don’t think it’s possible for immature Christians to have the capacity to give this gift of “I believe in you” or encouragement to others. I want every person here to be among the few people of this world to have the maturity of character of giving this gift of “I believe in you,” encouraging others. Those of you that develop your character into maturity will singlehandedly be the ones who leave a lasting impact to the person sitting beside you. Maturity gives; immaturity keeps and takes. Remember, they are both Christians. Which one will you be?
What is the single most important thing for every church to develop? Is it evangelism? Is it outreach? Is it praying all night? Is it church planting?
Maybe it will help you if I ask another question: What are the things that divide us? Why do those things divide us? And there are many things that divide us, but the answer is not in fixing those things that divide us. The answer is not ignoring those things that divide us. I believe the answer comes down to pursuing one single thing. Where should your church invest most of their time? Where should Christians invest most of their energies? We teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.
There is a story told about Mahatma Ghandi. A mother took her little boy to see the great leader. “Ghandi, please tell my little boy to stop eating sugar,” the mother requested. “Come back in three days,” said Ghandi. In three days the mother and the little boy returned. Ghandi said to the little boy, “Stop eating sugar.” Puzzled, the mother asked, “But why was it necessary for us to return after three days? Couldn’t you have told my boy to stop eating sugar when we first visited?” “I could not tell him that then,” replied Ghandi, “because three days ago, I was also eating sugar.”
We teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.
So what is the single most important thing for every church to develop? I would like to call your attention to maturity.
What is maturity? Maturity is a rather fascinating quality. Do you know, it’s very easy to identify immaturity? But all of you can also identify maturity. This is what I find so fascinating about maturity – it’s watching how people respond to it. Each time you act mature, people are attracted to you. But every time you act immature, people avoid you. Why is maturity so essential to church life? Because I personally believe maturity is the gateway for trust in our church life and in our communities. Trust is the currency; maturity is the gateway. When trust is lost or broken, it usually goes back to immaturity in leadership, immaturity in fatherhood, immaturity in motherhood, immaturity among brethren, immaturity among sisters. Maturity is the gateway for quality of your character – to learn to respond correctly in each situation.
When someone gives good advice but sets a bad example, you create confusion. We have an enemy that has sold us a cheap bill of goods. It’s called “modern Christianity.” (I might add to that “hybrid Anabaptists.”) Modern Christianity has sold us a Gospel that tells us, “Just believe God, and you’re already mature. God has done it all for you; all you need to do is pray and believe. In fact, pray a little louder and a little longer. And just believe a little more.” True prayer is one or our greatest assets; true faith is how we will inherit the Kingdom of God. But have we cheapened our prayers? And have we cheapened our faith?
Modern Christianity now assumes and demands God to do everything for us. I now hear people assume and demand almost everything from God. They assume and demand that we be forgiven. They assume and demand that we become wise. They assume and demand that we’re already obedient. They assume and demand that there’s no need for obedience. They assume and demand that we’re already spiritual. They assume and demand that we are strong. They assume and demand that we’re already mature. But this is a sign of immaturity.
Maturity is not exceling in one single spiritual discipline. Maturity is exceling and learning to develop in many spiritual disciplines. Maturity is responding well in each and every situation that comes your way.
Let’s look at some Scripture. Philippians 3:15 ESV:
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
KJV uses these words for maturity: “Understand like a man.” “Be perfect.” “Be complete.” The words perfect and complete, I find a bit intimidating. I find those words almost unreachable and unattainable. If I tell you that Brother so-and-so is perfect, or Sister so-and-so is complete, how do you relate to that? Like, is there any room for growth and improvement? But if I tell you someone is mature, that we can wrap our heads around and understand. We can understand one another if I tell you someone is immature. If someone is immature, I’m ok with that. All we need to do is help them grow from immaturity to maturity. God asks each of us to become mature. The beautiful thing about maturity is, you can grow and continue to become mature, and it doesn’t stop. It’s a very beautiful beautiful concept.
Hebrews 6:1 ESV:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.
The goal is for maturity. The warning against immaturity is when you continue to lay down foundations and elementary doctrines over and over. Modern Gospel. Listen to someone’s Gospel message. Do they tell you to rebuild your foundation over and over? Or do they tell you to build on the foundation? It’s the difference between maturity or immaturity.
What is the single most important thing that you should invest in as a Christian? Immaturity is when you become stuck on an event and try to repeat it and reproduce it over and over. Maturity is to build on that event.
Hebrews 6:7 says,
For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
I hope you got that verse.
Hebrews 5:13 says,
For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
But solid food is for the mature, (now listen to these words) for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Do you see all that’s happening in that verse? You’re developing your maturity. The mature are the ones who are able to receive solid food.
Those who have the powers of discernment trained by constant practice.
Doing it over and over, and getting better and improving. Leaving immaturity, going to maturity. And it’s up to you to develop yourself in the maturity. Nobody else can do this.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Look at that! The goal, the passion, the daily exercise of every church is to present everyone mature.
Maturity is revealed in two ways: in the way you think, and in the way you respond.
Let’s look at how maturity is developed.
Ephesians 4:13 says,
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, [mature womanhood] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Why? Verse 14,
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Maturity will keep you from that.
Rather maturity, verse 15,
speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ
(as our example).
from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
It’s called maturity.
Now, to give you a picture of how maturity is developed, I want you to think about this. I call this the pattern of maturity. I think maturity actually follows a very reliable process. Maturity doesn’t just happen. I like to think about it in a triangle. Maturity is developed under two issues that will be compared and balanced against one another.
One is, what you teach. What you teach and speak actually matters. How you teach matters. What you say matters. Are the things that you teach accurate and true? Is it “the faith once delivered” that you teach? Is the faith that you teach real? This isn’t exactly easy to do. It’s difficult to teach and to speak well.
The second thing in developing maturity is your living example. How do you live what you teach? Do you act the way you teach? Do you teach a high standard but when difficult situations are handed to you, you respond very immaturely? How do you respond in church life? What do your children say about your living example? How do you act in a men’s meeting when you think it isn’t going your way? Do you yell and pound your fist at men’s meeting? Do you act disdainfully? Are you condescending in the way you speak and walk?
Remember, we’re told by modern Christianity that we’re to assume that we’re mature. But do we recognize that what we teach and how we live is our only test? If you give good advice but set a bad example, you create confusion around you. This goes individually and collectively as churches. When you see confusion, it almost always goes back to this pattern. When what you teach [is not in line with how you live], and what you live is a bad example, your life return is confusion.
However, there is a more attractive way, and that is this: If you teach well and live a good example, your life return is credibility. And this goes personally and collectively as a church.
I’m 51 now. And something I start to notice as I get older is, I watch how people age spiritually. It is very interesting for me to watch. We age spiritually in one of two ways: either well or poorly. Poorly, is as we age spiritually, we become cynical and bitter, grumpy and complaining. Complicated old men, and annoying and self-centered. Everybody wants to run from the grumpy old father and mother. If you age spiritually well, you are pleasant; you are an encourager. You are happy; you are grateful. You are kind and you are merciful. You are gracious to the 18-year-olds. Everyone wants to be around the wise old father and mother, because they bring encouragement to everyone they meet.
Don’t assume you are mature. Maturity will determine how well you age spiritually, what your return in life will be. You hold the key. Will your life return be confusion or credibility?
Remember, maturity is the gateway that allows churches to duplicate, grow, and expand. And this is done through the currency of trust and credibility. I don’t think there are any shortcuts. You cannot give what you do not have.
I’m going to close with The Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:9-15.
9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
[Don’t assume you’re mature.]
15 But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.