Growing Up in Christ

I posted this story earlier this week, but this morning/afternoon God so spoke to my spirit and He gave me this:

As a child, my glimpses of God were found in a spattering of short-lived memberships in churches across the D/FW metroplex. However, I do not recall a time in my entire life when God did not exist for me. Jesus and God were real, but because I grew up with a lot of insecurity about my mother and a lot of fear of my dad – I had this idea that God was very big and very far away and very, very busy – too busy to be worried too much about me. Jesus, on the other hand, was more like Superman… a man, but somehow in my mind he was not vulnerable – just human because he had to be. He was, after all, God.

The earliest story about my experience in church is told with great joy by my father from when I was 3 years old. I had attended Sunday school long enough to have a good idea of who God might be. My family attended First Baptist Church of Wautaga then. The church was holding a week long revival. On the last night, my parents attended the service and were late forcing us to sit in aluminum chairs in the back of the auditorium. My mother, being the ever-doting mother and housewife, dressed me all in lace complete with patent leather shoes with wooden heals. My father said they had me sit between them on the metal chairs.

While we waited for the service to start I stood in the seat and danced making a loud noise with my shoes. As the pastor entered and walked up the aisle, he was the picture of authority. He had slightly graying hair at the temples, he was of Native American decent and when he preached the veins bulged at his temples. As everyone was seated and quieting down I caught a glimpse of this stern man and watched, still standing in my chair as he rounded the pulpit. When the hush fell, I pushed out my chubby little finger and announced with a proud voice, “Look, Daddy, there’s God!”

Needless to say, the entire congregation turned over in laughter. The uproar was in full swing as my daddy grasped me by both arms and set me down hard in my chair. He said through gritted teeth, “Now, you sit there and don’t you say another word, do you hear me?” He was incredibly embarrassed “that his seen but not heard” little girl had just disrupted the entire service. I had tears welling in my eyes as I said, “Yes sir.”
And, just as the pastor got the entire group quiet again, I looked up at my daddy crying crocodile tears and said, “But, Daddy… I want to see God, too.” My father reports feeling an inch tall as the pastor again had to quiet the entire congregation from another round of raucous laughter.

As I reflected on this story these last few days, I have found that over and over my mind returns to Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14 (NKJV), “Let the little children come unto Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” My father learned this very principle that night in those metal chairs in a room full of people tickled by his daughter’s misguided interpretation. But, he never has forbidden me to seek God in my own way again. He may not agree with the means of my pursuit or worship style, but he honors my love of the Lord and desire to know Him more. Much of which, I caught from he and my mother.

As the years have passed, I have had many opportunities to consider how I went from that little girl in an aluminum chair declaring the pastor of the church God to a woman with a raw and sometimes still misguided pursuit of God and God brought me to several verses of Scripture. The first is found in Mark 10:15 (NKJV), “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And the way this spoke to me is this: If I had not had moments like this when I was little – trying to identify God in faith that He was real, I would never have come to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. When I worked with children in a church after school program the director, who had been in ministry to children for many years, called these types of encounters “little steps of faith.” They were not actually a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ but they were a pathway to such a revelation. Just like in the old cartoons when a forbidden item was placed too high, the character would stack item upon item creating a tower until they could effectively climb up to the place where what they desired could be reached. So it is with children and faith.

The Scriptures do not suggest we should stop or remain at a childlike faith, just that we should start there. As I weighed this over and over again, I rediscovered a truth I had learned long ago and this is how God helped me to understand it. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJV) Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly. But then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” The more I pursue God through His Word and look for Him in my life. The more prepared I become to meet Him “face-to-face” in heaven… to know Him as I am now known in Him. It strikes me, too, that Paul suggests that when we look in the mirror the reflection of Christ stares back at us, dimly, but there will come a time of full recognition, full knowing in the purest of places.

As children in Christ, immature in our faith we desire or hunger after God through pure spiritual milk, just as an infant desires the pure milk of its mother’s breast to satisfy its hunger, we desire the feeding of simple truths from God’s Word, our source of life. 1 Peter 2:2 commends us to it, “as newborn babes, desire pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,” (NKJV). Pure spiritual “milk” taught from God’s Word is the key to growing up in your faith. It is ownership of the gift we have been given. A child unfed by the milk of its mother or some nurturing substitute will die of starvation and so it is with our Spiritual life. Once we are in Christ, we must begin to feed regularly on God’s Word. I believe one of the plights on the Christian community today is that when a new believer comes to Christ they settle for one meal a week. They are not encouraged to seek a regular feeding schedule the way a doctor tells a mother to nurse her baby a little at a time every few hours. How then, do we expect new believers to grow up in the Word when we are only encouraging them to receive the Word, their Spiritual nutrition, little more than once or twice a week.

As parents, when our children take those little steps of faith until they receive that revelation of Christ as Savior, we fail to grow them up by administering small bits of spiritual nourishment outside of church to our children. We do not take seriously that calling in those days the way we do the physical schedule for our children. So much is in the way, little league and girl or boy scouts, homework and the family routine. Somehow, a family time of devotion and nourishment from Scripture is lost along the way.

But milk is not enough to sustain our faith… We must learn to eat from the Table that God has prepared for us. We should commune there with Him and have a true relationship and not just an occasional meal. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to not settle for milk only and stunt our growth, but instead to move forward learning to eat from the Spiritual Meat of His word, the weightier doctrines that carry us through the harder and the darker times of our lives.

Think of it this way. When it comes to food, milk comes from the cow, but it doesn’t require much. The milk is expressed and the cow is left relatively unharmed by the entire process. However, to produce the meat that brings protein and strength to our bodies, the cow must be slaughtered – taken apart. Now those of us living in America would hardly understand this concept since we pick up our meat at the supermarket, but my father was the child of a butcher. His father worked the kill floor of slaughterhouses and taught his sons to do the same. They would take the animal and do what was necessary to preserve the choice meats, the things that were easy to sell and most profitable. I liken this to those verses of Scripture that are quipped, quoted and paraphrased in conversation daily, like “I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord…” Jeremiah 29:11 is such an encouraging verse. Easy to stomach and helpful to all. But take the stomach or the tongue of the animal that is slaughtered. How many of you relish the thought of eating tongue… me either… yuck! But my father and his father would end their day by taking the less desired meats and delivering them to people who needed and enjoyed them most. I liken this to those Scriptures that get to us in times of suffering like the death of someone close or painful circumstances like divorce or abuse – times that are unappealing and create a pain in us at the thought.

Those are times when a verse like Hebrews 2:14-15 carry a weightier message, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood. He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (NKJV) If God’s plans are to prosper us and not to harm us then why does Satan have the power of death… now wait a minute. I thought God was the giver and taker of life. Hold on… does that mean – I asked the same question when I read it: “What if we are giving God credit for something He did not do?” The Scriptures also say that it is the enemy, not God, who comes to “kill, steal and destroy” and that Jesus came that we may have “life and have it to the full.” So what does this mean to us. Well, we have to take it apart, view it in light of our circumstances, the context in which it was written and the prospect of God’s plan being bigger than we can conceive – otherwise we will experience things in our immaturity that will suffer our faith and perhaps turn our hearts away from God.

I spent the last four years leading women’s in-depth Bible study, breaking Scripture apart and building principles and beliefs about God based on my experiences and those studies. I was just beginning a new season of study in the fall of 2005 when my 17 year old son passed away due to injuries he suffered in a car accident. Without that feasting on meat for all that time, I could not have told God, “If this is what You are preparing me for then You are going to have to be my peace and my strength as Your Word promises, because I cannot do this by myself. Please God, just let my son be alive when I get there.” He was, he lived for 8 days before succumbing to a traumatic brain injury. In those bittersweet moments, God was so real, standing over me – Jesus beside me holding my hand. The tears were the heart cry of a mother who said, “Have mercy, Lord, on my child and give me peace to accept Your will.” A mother who in those days in the hospital and through the funeral would find out what she was made of and if her faith talk matched her walk. A mother who would discover that her God was as real and as true as the Scriptures had said He was.

In those early hours of the second day in the hospital, my pastor stopped by and spoke with me, he said, “I knew you had a strong faith and I knew you could talk it… But now I know you can walk it. You would not believe the number of phone calls I received this morning commenting on the way you are holding up and walking through this thing. It is having a greater effect on everyone than you know.” I was so humbled in that moment, and took so seriously the position and place God had given me among those people. We would all learn in the days to come that sometimes are best hopes are not God’s best plan for our lives, but we walked through it together and I never would have been strong enough to walk through had I not learned to eat from the Table of God’s Spiritual Meat.

Hebrews 5:12-14 addresses this very subject, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the words of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

God may allow Satan to have access to our lives the way we see Him grant Satan access to Job’s life in that first chapter of his story. But Satan comes to steal and kill whatever he can to destroy not only our faith but our witness. I want to challenge you this day, in light of God’s grace and mercy in our lives to dig in with a fork and not a sippy cup. We need to grow up in Christ, not just receive the gift of our salvation through Him. We would do well to teach our children the same.

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