GROWING THROUGH THE MOTIONS SERIES
MOUNTAIN OF MATURITY
AUGUST 24, 1997
I had a lot of misconceptions about climbing. I thought that I could do it with ease. I am in decent shape. I am relatively strong. But I have got to tell you something. I was surprised at what it took to climb. And in today’s session we are talking about climbing and not some wall at a local sporting goods store. We are talking about climbing a mountain called maturity.
Now a lot of us have some misconceptions about this mountain, too. We say that we are in pretty good shape, that we can climb it with ease. I am relatively strong. But, I have got to tell you, this mountain will surprise you because it is much more demanding, more difficult than you think. Before we get into the how-tos of climbing the mountain of maturity, I want to share with you some misconceptions about spiritual maturity.
Remember, I am not talking about chronological maturity. Chronological maturity might be defined as that Winabego-driving, golf-thriving, hair-thinning, Elvis-spinning, money-saving, grandbaby-raving mentality that advertises its maturity. We are not talking about that. We are talking about spiritual maturity. So turn to your neighbor and say that we are talking about spiritual maturity.
The first misconception goes like this. Maturing spiritually is our prerogative. We think that it is our option, that we can choose to either climb or not to climb. That line of thinking is false. God has worked overtime, He has made it obvious that we should grow and develop and move on from infancy to adolescence and from adolescence to maturity. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:1 that we are to go on to maturity.
You saw me in the video at REI with old Kit. Kit had everything for me. He had the ropes. He had the climbing shoes. He had the chalk for my hands. He was telling me what to do. And God has given us the Holy Spirit who tugs at our heartstrings. He has given us the Bible that supports us. He has given us brothers and sisters in Christ who are together in the local church to challenge us and applaud us as we climb and mature along this spiritual continuum. God, Himself, is waiting for large collections of Kingdom climbers to make it to the top. To make it more relevant, God is waiting for you. He is waiting for you to climb like you have never climbed before because He has a great agenda for your life and my life. He wants to use us for His redemptive purposes around the world. We are a part of God’s plan, of His focus. And God can only use you and me fully if we hit the wall and begin to climb the mountain of maturity.
The second misconception is that everyone climbs, everyone matures at the same rate. Well, that is a joke. Kit is an expert climber. I had never climbed before. Kit could climb five times as fast as I could ever climb. People mature physically at different rates. I knew people who began shaving in the sixth grade. Others of us were late bloomers. Spiritually speaking, we have to understand how we are wired up. We are wired up differently. We have to own that, to understand that and to thank God for that. Then we have to understand how we grow. We grow in different ways. We climb in different ways, using different techniques. The Bible says in Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation….” It doesn’t say work for, it says we are to work out what God through His grace has worked in. Once Christ has infiltrated our lives, we are to work out our “…salvation with fear and trembling.”
Some of us learn better by reading. We have got a lot of readers here. If you learn best by reading, lift your hand. Some of you eat books for lunch, don’t you? Go to a Christian bookstore and buy Packer, Tozier and Lewis and just feed on them. You might grow faster as you read. Others of us like to listen. We like tapes. We are tape monsters, we feed on tapes. Others of us would rather sing. And we write music and sing songs of worship to God. Still others want to write poetry to God. Find out how you best grow. Thank God for it. Test the waters and begin to climb. Just hit the wall.
There is another misconception about climbing. We say to ourselves that climbing the mountain of maturity is easy, effortless and intuitive. It just happens. We just mature. That is ludicrous. It doesn’t just happen. It is not easy, effortless and intuitive. It will take every ounce of strength that we have. It is the most difficult thing that I know in this life, growing closer to God.
Now why is it difficult? It is difficult because the evil one, I am talking about Satan himself, will do everything in his power to impede our progress. He will throw rocks at us. He will try to cut the ropes. He will step on our fingers and toes. The evil one hates for us to grow. And if you feel resistance as you begin to feed on God’s word, thank God for it. That means you are doing something right.
A couple of nights ago my wife and I were sitting at our kitchen table with some dear friends having some coffee. It was about 10:00pm. We were watching our four cats. We have so many cats that I have forgotten some of their names. We have the cats because of our snake problem. That is a whole other story. Anyway, the largest cat Oreo was lounging about five feet away from his bowl. We saw something that occurs frequently at our home. We saw a big raccoon emerge from the shadows and begin to lumber toward the food bowl. You don’t want to mess with a raccoon. A raccoon can hurt you. Well, he got about two feet away from the food bowl. To my shock and amazement Oreo turned, leaped on the raccoon, clawed at it and caused it to turn with his tail between his legs and disappear. We never realized before that we were the proud owners of an attack cat. I was tempted to call the Discovery channel. Our friends were going ballistic, they couldn’t believe it. It happened again. This time a bigger raccoon came around the side of the house toward the food. Oreo had perched himself on the windowsill and when the raccoon got near the food, Oreo leapt from the sill and again scared the coon off. We got tired of the raccoon show and moved the party into the den. About thirty minutes later we heard a big ruckus. We go outside to see what was occurring. The raccoons had gotten smart. Three of them had approached the food in unison. Oreo was poised over to one side obviously thinking that three were too many to attack at once.
Spiritual growth is a lot like that little story. We are kind of like the raccoons. We move toward spiritual food and spiritual nourishment. We will call the cat, Satan, and that is not a difficult parallel, is it? Now I am just teasing. I love cats. I saw some cat lovers hiss at me. If you know me well, I love animals. No letters and cards, please. Anyway, Satan is like the cat. He will jump on us. He will come from different places, using different methodologies. But what did the raccoons do? They bunched together, didn’t they? And if we bunch together with brothers and sisters in Christ, in the local church, in a small group ministry, Satan is going to stay away. He is going to sit back with his paws crossed knowing that he would have a tough time getting to us.
Another reason it is difficult to grow is because spiritual climbing is kind of a unique activity. It is kind of odd, isn’t it, to mature spiritually? It would be easy to mature spiritually if everybody at work was maturing spiritually. But everybody at work is into golf and tennis and parties. Few people are really committed to climbing the mountain of maturity. That is one of the reasons that it is difficult.
The final reason is the DLP principle. The DLP principle keeps a lot of people off the mountain. It keeps us standing there watching others climb, others rappel, others fall, others get bruised knees and sunburned shoulders. D stands for discipline. Listen very carefully. Discipline can be defined as delayed gratification, doing the difficult things first. It is impossible to be a mature believer if you don’t have spiritual discipline in your life. You cannot develop an awesome relationship with the living God by skimming and hydroplaning and talking to Him on the fly. You have got to be regimented. You have got to be disciplined. We serve a God of order. We serve a God of discipline. He expects us to be disciplined as we get to know Him.
The L stands for loyalty. Talk to mature people. Mature people are loyal. They hang in the relationship. Even though there is a relational sticking point, they hang in there and crash through quitting points. They break down barriers. They hang in the local church when the going gets tough. They hang in the vocation when things seem insurmountable. Mature people are loyal. They trust others. They trust leaders. We serve a loyal God. Have you ever just taken a step back to consider how loyal God is to you and me? I think about the number of times that I have disappointed God in my life. And he is still loyal to me. He still loves me. I am the crown of God’s creation. If God hadn’t made Ed Young, there would be a hole in history, a gap in His creative order. And the same is true of you. And that is how loyal our God is to us. And he expects us to be loyal to others and to institutions and especially to the local church.
P stands for purity. We are to live a pure and holy lifestyle before God. You know a lot of people don’t talk about holiness and purity any more. The Bible does, though. We don’t have to be holy and pure because of arbitrary rules that God sets up to limit and stifle us and keep us from having a good time. That is not God’s agenda. We are to be holy and pure because we serve a holy and pure God. It is an act of spiritual worship. Also, it influences other people. When I began to mature, to hit the wall and began to climb, people watch what I eat and what I don’t eat. They watch what I drink and what I don’t drink, what I drive and what I don’t drive, where I live, where I don’t live, etc. Regarding all those things, people are watching me. What did you mean by that? Why did you go there? Why didn’t you go there? Some of you may be saying that is because I am a pastor. Well, yes, maybe more people might see me in that light but let me tell you something. If you are on the wall, if you are climbing the mountain of maturity, people are watching you. And you have no idea that they are checking you out. They are watching you because they want to see if Christianity is for real. You have a sphere of influence that I will never have. You will have contacts that I will never have. I have contacts that you will never have. We are to live out an authentic life of maturity toward Christ before these other people. And if we live out a pure and holy lifestyle, live out loyalty, live out discipline, it will snap the heads of unbelievers. They will want some of what you have that they don’t have. Some misconceptions about climbing the mountain of maturity.
Now I know that some are sitting back saying that what I am talking about is impossible. Discipline, loyalty, purity are impossible goals. But you see God can make it possible. God majors in people like you and me. He majors in people who fall and mess up, have bruised knees and sunburned shoulders trying to climb the mountain of maturity. He knows that we are going to mess up. That is why we have been talking about Simon Peter throughout this series. Study the life of Simon Peter. We can see him in infancy, then move from that to adolescence, then blast forth into maturity and begin to climb the mountain of maturity. I love Simon Peter. I can identify with him because he messed up and so do I, and so can you. If God can do it through him, God can do it through you and through me.
Now let’s change gears and talk about the good stuff. Let’s talk about the how-tos. How do we climb the mountain of maturity? What do we do? First, we need to become engaged in lifelong kingdom work. That’s right. If we want to get serious about hitting the wall, we have got to become engaged in lifelong kingdom work. In Matthew 4, Jesus was walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He saw a man named Simon Peter along with his brother. They were casting their nets. Jesus said, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19. Christ was saying that they were in the fish business but that they could get in the people business through Him. He told them that they could have a relationship with God through Him. These two guys followed Jesus. They changed from the fish business to the people business. Jesus said later on that the people business would frustrate them but that the people business is worth it. Jesus said that on the best day of the fish business you could lay your head on the pillow at night and know that you transferred a couple of hundred fish from sea to land. But Jesus said that on the best day of the people business you will lay your head on the pillow at night and you will know that you were involved in helping to transfer a human being from hell to heaven, from confusion to hope, from despair to deliverance. Jesus said that there is nothing like the difference-making people business. Get into it. Jesus is not telling you to leave your fish business. He is saying that you can still hang in the fish business but you had better get involved in the people business if you want to know what it means to climb the mountain of maturity.
Now and then I will have infants and adolescents come up to me and say that they feel something is missing in their walk with God and they wonder what it is. I ask them if they are in the people business, engaged in lifelong kingdom work. Then I ask them to give me the names of people they have shared with over the last six months, of people they are mentoring, of people they are helping.
Are you in the fish business or the people business? Now a lot of us say that we are in the fish business. We think that we are just one haul away. We will close a deal and get ten thousand or hundreds of thousands of fish and believe that that will give us fulfillment. But we are still empty. Then some here will actually make a deal in which we will haul in millions of fish. We then expect wind in our sails but that doesn’t happen. The only thing that will do it for you is when you get involved in lifelong kingdom work.
How? Where? How? By using your unique talents. Where? The venue is the local church. If your heart does not beat fast for the local church, there is no way that you can really mature in your faith. The church is called the bride of Christ. We are to be committed to the local church. After our 11:15 service, I am going to teach a Newcomer’s Class. We will give many of you an opportunity to join our church. If you are being fed here, if you are meeting people here, if you feel that God is leading you here, we would love to have you. Welcome to the Fellowship of Las Colinas. But, our church is not for everybody. If this church is not for you, that’s great because there are many fantastic churches within a fifteen-mile radius of us. Make sure that you get involved in a church. Join the church. Stay committed to the church and watch what God does as you climb the mountain of maturity.
When God asked me one day, “Ed, what were you committed enough to join?” I don’t want to have to respond that I was committed enough to join a fly-fishing club, a basketball team and a fraternity. All those things are fine but I want to be able to answer that I was committed enough to join the most important entity to Him – the church.
The second way to mature is by maintaining a teachable and humble attitude. Do you have a teachable spirit? You see when I climbed, I had a teachable spirit. I didn’t know anything about climbing. Kit did. I said, “Teach me, man, I don’t know anything.” The funny thing about it is that I thought Kit would give me a long dissertation on climbing. I thought he would give me the history of climbing, the etymology of the word climb, wisdom on the climbing shoe and lots of other stuff. He talked to me only fifteen minutes explaining the process and then said, “OK, Ed, hit the wall.” I said, “Already?” He replied, “I’ll catch you if you fall.” Information is paramount. Information is a priority if we are going to grow and mature but we have got to just hit the wall. We have to begin climbing. And while we are climbing, we get information and we apply that information. Growing up, I kind of rubbed shoulders with people who really knew the Bible. I knew some people who had memorized vast sections of scripture. They could quote Calvin and Luther and Aquinas like they had lunch with them yesterday. I believed that these
people were certainly mature because they knew a lot about God’s word. And many of them were spiritually mature but some of them knew a lot about God’s word but they didn’t know God. We can have our craniums full to the brim with data, facts and figures. We can even memorize the maps in the back of the Bible and still miss God. We have got to know doctrine. We have got to understand theology. We also have to apply it. Do you have a teachable spirit? Or do you think that you have arrived on top of the mountain and that no one can teach you anything? Have you got God in a theological box or a denominational box or your own little box? Every box I have tried to put God into, He has gotten out of, every single one.
Old Simon Peter tried to do the same thing. Simon Peter thought that Christianity was a Jewish thing. And one day he was praying and you know what God said? God said, “Hey, Simon Peter, it is not a Jewish thing, it is a people thing.” And God challenged Simon Peter to go to the house of a non-Jew, a Roman power player named Cornelius. And Simon Peter led Cornelius and his entire household to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and they were all baptized that day. They were the first non-Jew believers. Christianity is for everybody. Well Simon Peter thought that he had God in a box. But God will get out of every single box that you try to put him into. A teachable spirit.
You know, oftentimes as Christians we like to criticize others churches or other ministries. If you criticize another church or another ministry, be very, very careful. Because if another church or ministry is Biblically driven and Biblically based, we better not criticize. Oftentimes we criticize the style. When their substance is right but their style is different we think that they are kind of out to lunch. God gives us the opportunity, ladies and gentlemen, to choose our style. As long as something is Biblically driven we have the option with the style thing.
A couple of weeks ago Lisa and I worshipped in a church and had a great worship experience. The service lasted 3 ½ hours. The style that they used would not be the style that I would ever use. But, it was a wonderful experience and I applaud what that church is doing here in our area. Totally different than our church but they are Biblically driven.
But let me rush to say this. There are a lot of false teachers out there. If you are asking yourself what a false teacher is, all you have to do is turn on the television. There are a bunch of them right there, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not all TV preachers are false teachers, but there are a bunch of them. If you have any questions about a preacher or teacher, filter them through a mature Christian. Ask one of the pastors on our staff. We would be happy to talk to you.
Speaking of false teachers, our three year old, Landra, walked up to Lisa this past Thursday with an ice cream sandwich. She said, “Mommy, can I eat the ice cream sandwich?” Lisa said, “Landra, no. We are going to eat dinner in about 15 minutes.” One more time Landra asked the same question and Lisa replied with the same answer. Then Landra said, “Mommy, Jesus made the ice cream sandwich and He told me to eat it now.” Now we all laugh at that. But if you hear a false teacher saying that Jesus told them that they are to eat an ice cream sandwich now, watch out. There are a lot of people like that out there. So be very, very careful.
But along with a teachable spirit you need a spirit of humility. What is spiritual maturity? Is spiritual maturity coming to church with a Beaver Cleaver, Mike Brady type mentality, a perfect marriage, perfect kids and no problems? You smile and talk about non-consequential things and you put up a false image and pretend that everything is A-OK. You are a Larry Las Colinas or Mark and Mary Metroplex and you have got it going on. Spiritual maturity is not propping up some image, some false and phony image. I believe that spiritual maturity is admitting your foul-ups. It is when you come to a problem in the marriage and you seek Christian counseling. It is when you have problems with your teenagers, you get help. It is when you are talking to another brother or sister in a small group here and you reveal what you are struggling with. That is spiritual maturity. Having a humble spirit before God.
Spiritual maturity is not looking at others when they sin and saying, “That would never happen to me. I can’t believe what they did.” That is not spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is saying, “By the grace of God, I am disciplined, I am loyal, I am sure. It is by the grace of God only.” That is spiritual maturity.
Let’s talk about the third and final way to climb the mountain of maturity. This one, I believe, is the one that will grow you and grow me faster than either of the other two I have talked about. We have got to learn the purpose of suffering. Part of God’s will is for us to suffer. No, we don’t serve a masochistic God. God allows suffering to mold us and to shape us and to grow us. The Bible says in Romans 5:3, “We are to rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces perseverance…” You see suffering is pregnant! It “…produces perseverance, character and hope.” Triplets! Did you know that Stan Durham, our Pastor of Music and Media, is expecting triplets? Anyway that is a whole other story. It is unbelievable. We have twins and now Stan will have triplets. Anyway, suffering produces these three things. Have you suffered? And what has suffering done? Well as you begin to climb the mountain of maturity, you are going to suffer. I suffered a little bit. I am still sore from my outing the other day. You are going to suffer.
This past week I took an informal poll. I talked to a number of people who I know who are spiritually mature and I asked them this question. “Tell me when did you grow the most, what season in your life did you grow the most?” You know what they said? “When we lost a child.” “When I went through that divorce.” “When I got knifed in the back by that so-called friend.” “When I felt so alone for the first time in my life being away from home in a foreign city.” That is when I grew the most, during times of suffering. You know what Jesus said? He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” He didn’t say, take up My cross. He wasn’t talking about a piece of wood with a string tied in the middle. He said to take up your own cross and follow Him. What is your cross? Your cross could be a physical handicap. Your cross could be a challenge that you face at work every single day. Your cross could be a mate who is totally unfair to you most days of the week. That could be your cross. That could be your suffering. Take up your cross and follow Him and realize that God is using your cross and my cross to build real stuff into us.
During times of suffering we are going to have doubts. We are going to get angry at God. We are going to question God. And God welcomes our anger. He welcomes our doubts. He welcomes our questions. You have got to hold onto Him. I have gone through a season of suffering recently beginning with the sudden death of Lisa’s father six months ago. Several other hard things have transpired and it has been very, very difficult for me recently. I have suffered in different ways. But I am here to tell you that due to the fact of my questioning God, due to the fact of my raising doubts, due to the fact of my asking God for direction, due to the fact that I have held onto God during this time, I have grown more, spiritually speaking, over the last six months than I have in my entire life. In the midst of suffering, believe it or not, I can thank God for it although it has not been fun. How about you? Are you ready to hit the wall? Are you ready to climb the mountain of maturity? Are you ready? God is ready. He is willing. He is able. He can do it. He will hold the ropes. He will catch you when you fall. He will give you the chalk. He will coach you. He will encourage you and you and you and me, as we all climb the mountain, the mountain of spiritual maturity.