Have you ever had a job that got a little boring? Sure, we all have, perhaps even enough to want a new career. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few career options that you might enjoy, whether you’re at a stage in life where your setting out for the first time, or if this is a second career. The first job is a waterslide tester. Yes, this exists, and it does have job requirements. Europe’s SplashWorld Parks stipulate that you need strong reading and writing skills, willingness to travel and be sent to their various parks, and flexibility. Also, they state that you have to be okay with getting wet on the job. If you’re a slide tester, though, you should know that this career doesn’t allow any upward movement.
Another job is as an ocularist. This person is able to custom design artificial eyes for people who have lost theirs. The eyes are non-functioning, but they allow people to have a normal appearance, even utilizing existing optical muscles to allow movement. To become an ocularist, you’ll need to complete a five year training and apprenticeship program at the American Society of Ocularists.
Another option is that you could become an airplane repo person. Your job would be to repossess the planes belonging to individuals or companies who have fallen on hard times. Among a variety of skills needed for this job, you’ll need your commercial pilot’s license, because you have to fly the plane to wherever it needs to go.
Here’s one that surprised me: Professional bridesmaid. Your gig as a paid bridesmaid who helps with dress shopping, guest lists, gift registry, and other details that bog down the wedding couple or bridesmaid responsibilities. And yes, if there is an extra groomsmen that would leave the wedding party unbalanced, you’re walking down the aisle with him. To become a professional bridesmaid, you’ll need to develop a pretty strong customer service mindset along with many organizational and people skills.
Finally, there’s the ice cream taster. If you hold this position, your job is to test random cartons of each ice cream flavor each day to ensure product quality. This might seem like a dream job, but if you want to become an ice cream taster, you’ll have to walk a bit of a rocky road, so to speak, because you must maintain a regimented diet, free of any spices. Of course, with this job, the word diet will never be far from your thinking.
Turn in your Bibles to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There are all sorts of jobs out there, and almost all of them have qualifications, certain skills that are required if you want to become a person with that job. We understand the principle that skills and education are necessary to become competent, to become equipped, for whatever work we want to do. So we’ve built education into our society’s infrastructure. 55 million students attend elementary, middle, or high school. Added to that are countless colleges, universities, and trade schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are over two hundred thousand education establishments in our country. Online learning alone is a $107 billion industry. That means we don’t need any convincing that training is important for us to become competent and equipped for our work.
You are called to become like Christ
But sometimes we do need convincing of another aspect of becoming. If you are a Christian, you are called to become like Christ. We call this discipleship, and it’s one of the five key purposes for believers. It’s also the very first purpose as listed in our purpose statement that you see on the front of our worship guides. As a church, we are called to “Grow in the love of Christ.” Let’s read 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
“16All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. What allows the Christian to become like Christ, to be complete and equipped? Scripture does.
We’re going to unpack that here today in a brief, flyover sort of way. As we begin, I want to share about something that happened over in Germany, in the Wartburg Castle. This is the same castle where Martin Luther was holed up while assuming a false identity, because he had been sentenced to death by the Church. And why had he been sentenced? Because of what started on October 31, 1517. This Tuesday will be the 500 year anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses against the church door in Wittenberg. He had noticed some problems in the Church – practices that went against Scripture – and so he spoke up about them. Within a few years, the arguments that followed helped solidify Martin Luther’s understanding that the Bible is our ultimate basis of authority. When you add in tradition or extra rules, it only leads to a skewed understanding.
So there was Luther, hunkered down in a drafty castle, when he decides its time to translate the Bible into the German language. Because of his familiarity with Greek and through his observation of how the common person spoke, he was able to complete his translation in just twelve weeks’ time. A year later it was published in the fall of 1522, and it immediately became a bestseller. It was so popular that it is credited with unifying the German tongue, the birth of the modern German language. People were thirsting for the truth of God’s Word, but for so long they didn’t have it. They didn’t even hear it when they went to church. The celebration of the mass was almost always performed by poorly trained priests with almost no access to the Bible. They often shared fables instead of the Bible. Luther’s German Bible was revolutionary, and it was craved.
In August, Karen and I sat in the beautiful Festsall Hall of the Wartburg Castle, decorated in the Renaissance style, and enjoyed a message from Albert Mohler on what Luther learned about the Bible during his time there. There were three things: First, Luther said the Bible must be in the hands of the people. He translated and published it so that people could actually have the Bible as their own. Second, Luther knew the Bible must be in the tongue of the people. What good would it be if they couldn’t understand it? He went so far as to make sure it was in the common tongue that people spoke. He would sneak into town, disguised, just to watch people talk. Third, Luther said the Bible must be in the hearts of the people. When I heard that, I was jolted by a reality we face today. We have the Bible today in our hands like never before. Several are on your shelves at home, and with a few taps you can pull up any reference you want. We also have the Bible in our tongue, again, like never before. Do you want a different translation? Just switch it! We are overwhelmed with so many English translations that we can choose the one we prefer. But do we have the Bible in our hearts?
Sometimes I think the pendulum has swung so far that we face a problem similar to the German people five hundred years ago. They had no access to the Bible, so they didn’t know it. We have so much access to the Bible – it’s so common – that we don’t bother knowing it. It’s like the touring we did in New York City with the youth this summer. When we went to see the Statue of Liberty, do you know how many New Yorkers were there? Probably close to zero. I got the sense they even import their tour guides. Just like the Washington D. C. monuments are for us, the landmarks of New York are so common that the New Yorkers don’t bother with them. We end up being casual in our approach to God’s Word. Do we approach it like Martin Luther said we should? He wrote, “One should tremble before each letter of the Bible. God is in every syllable. Not one of them is in vain.” In addition, knowledge has exploded on so many fronts that we can easily place some form of authority above the Bible, often without even realizing it. Whenever you hear some expert from some field make a claim that you don’t think goes along with the Bible, it means that either the expert is wrong or your understanding of the Bible is wrong. So starting today we take a week in our readings in the What on Earth am I Here For? Book to learn about this truth: We are called to become like Christ.
If that daily task has become a bit stale for you, today is meant to encourage you. Even if the Bible has been more in your hands and less in your heart, today is a great day to change that. It’s just like when we come to the realization that we need to lose some weight or get our finances in order or finish that home project or whatever. We renew our goal and get to work on it. The good news is that God has given us great advice for how to become like Jesus. How best do we practice discipleship? How best can we become like Christ? We’ll focus on three principles to keep in mind.
Spiritual Growth is both Learned and Lived
The first principle is that spiritual growth is both learned and lived. How many of you have taken a class that also contains a lab component? If so, then you know that you have your classroom time, when you are learning concepts, often scientific ones for this sort of class. Then you have a couple hours each week spent in the lab. This is where those concepts you have learned get put into practice. And sometimes you get to wear lab coats and goggles and even play with fire. The lab is important, because if learning only happens in the classroom, you don’t get that critical, hands-on learning. You aren’t actually equipped. When we talk about discipleship – becoming like Christ – we have classroom components and lab time. Christians often confuse these and think that discipleship is the classroom time. Our 2 Timothy passage makes clear the importance of the Bible in the classroom. It brings about teaching, rebuke, correcting, and training. We have to know it well, and classroom time helps us learn it. But the verses also say that the purpose of the instruction time is to equip us for every good work. If you come to worship service and Sunday school, those two hours are meant to equip you for your 166 hour lab the rest of the week. When you take 15-30 minutes reading God’s Word and praying in the morning, your classroom time leads to a 23 ½ hour lab time, where you put your learning into practice.
Or we mix it up the other way and think living is learning, so much so that we don’t need special learning times. We ignore the classroom time altogether and simply attend the lab of life experience. If you were to attend lab in class, you might be able to run some experiments, but they would likely go scarily wrong. Whatever you thought you learned might be inaccurate, all because you didn’t want to rely on the learning of those who have gone before you. That means you are set up for some painful lab experiences. Many times we attend classroom time for a little while, think we know enough, and then decide it’s all lab from there. If your classroom time has been scarce for a while, then you are likely a person who can look back at a time when your faith was vibrant and growing and exciting. You may have chalked that off as a developmental phase, something every Christian goes through for a while before a natural cool down. But this isn’t the way it’s meant to be. We are meant to become more and more like Christ. Rick Warren refers to this as the “Marathon to Maturity.” As you look back at life, the general patter should be one of growing closer to God rather than further away. They may be small ups and downs, but the general trend is one of growth, maturity.
Spiritual Growth isn’t Easy, but it’s Worthwhile
Another principle is that spiritual growth isn’t easy, but it’s worthwhile. Sometimes this happens because we falsely assume this process of becoming like Christ is mostly about our own happiness. It’s not. It’s about our holiness. It’s about making us complete and equipped to follow God. The beauty is that during that process we do become happier, or at least more joyful. We have a peace and satisfaction that only comes when we make our pursuit of God our first priority. Like John the Baptist said of Jesus,
“He must increase, and I must decrease”
(John 3:30). Some falsely assume that it is more of a magical process that doesn’t take much work, but it takes a lot of work! It takes daily work. It’s tedious. It’s sometimes painful. It’s regular. And it’s worth it.
The other week I was with the youth at a corn maze. It’s a great place, by the way, and we might look at doing an event for families there next year. There are loads of games and activities. Anyway, Matt H. and I were enjoying hot dogs by the campfire, just chatting together, when he decides to disrupt the peacefulness of the moment by inviting me to start running with him. I needed another hot dog just to deal with the question! Me? Run? I grew up playing baseball. I’m no runner. I usually pitched and was perfectly content standing there in the middle of the mound. Yes, occasionally I would need to cover home or first, but we’re talking sixty feet bursts of speed. I can handle that. I can even handle ninety feet. I loved getting to the plate and hitting a bloop single that would put me on first. Sometimes I’d be filled with dread and realize, “Oh no. The ball is going in the gap between the outfielders. It’s going to be a double. I have to run twice as far!” I never played baseball in order to run, at least not past the occasional sprints separated by prolonged periods of rest. Then I played in college and found out they want you in good shape to play ball. Our favorite ballplayer, Errol Robinson, could tell you all about this, even to the semipro level. They would make us run “poles.” Do you know what those are? You start at one foul pole and run along the warning track a few hundred feet to the next one and back again. “Run thirty poles,” they’d say. And that was to the pitchers! Even in baseball, you can’t get out of prolonged running.
I haven’t said no to Matt…yet. Here’s what I know: If he and I begin to run together – to start out running a mile and gradually increase – I’ll be glad I did it. Matt and Joed were in the Marine Corps Marathon last week. They ran the race, and they did it by slowly building up their endurance. I kind of want to do that, physically. I definitely want to do that spiritually.
But here’s the problem: Some of us look at Christianity the way I looked at baseball. Occasional sprints required. Come to church once a week or at least a couple times a month. Sing. Give. Pray. Go home. During the week, try to do an okay job and tell ourselves how understanding God is when we lose our tempers or tell little lies or give in to lust or cheat on a test. Then we come back again on Sunday for another quick sprint. But as we said already, this act of becoming like Christ is a marathon, not a sprint. We are told it’s hard and that it takes discipline in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul writes,
“24Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. 26So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly…27Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control…”
That’s how we want to run. In fact, running is one of the metaphors used to help us understand spiritual growth. In Hebrews 12, we are told to
“run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Spiritual Growth is a process
Finally, spiritual growth is a process. It is a transformation process, that begins with our conversion, the moment we place our faith in Jesus to save us from our sins and turn away from our own independent ideas on life. Why does this come first? It comes first because any efforts prior to salvation in Christ are done by our own strength and in our own independence. It is as though we say we can do it on our own, when the Bible tells us it has to be done through God’s power working through us. Philippians 2:13 says,
“For it is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him.”
So Jesus doesn’t only save from sin and a faulty way of living. He saves to a brand new lifestyle with purpose.
Once you have placed faith in Jesus, the Bible says this becoming like him begins with what it calls the “renewing of our minds.” In other words, real change starts here, in your head, with changed thinking. At times it might feel like your thoughts just sort of free flow from one thing to the next and that you have no control over them, but we have a great deal of control over our thoughts. If you want to do your taxes (“want” is probably the wrong word here!), you organize the space so you’ve got W-2s and contribution statements. You get your calculator out and maybe pull up some tax software. You’ve set the environment so your thoughts are on your taxes. If you have family over for Thanksgiving, you begin making a list of ingredients and organize the meal so that pretty soon you’re mind is on planning. We do a lot to control our thinking. In 2 Corinthians 10 we are told to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” There is a pattern outlined in Ephesians that happens where we take off attitudes and actions according to our old way of life, we are renewed through right thinking according to God’s Word, and we put on new patterns of attitude and action. That’s the process.
Sometimes we think a person has to be ultra-holy to follow spiritual growth. It’s one of those ideas that we know to be false when we speak it aloud, but we might hold in our head without expressing it. Here’s a different way to think about spiritual growth: God is more concerned with where you are headed than where you are right now. He’s patient. He puts up with a lot. He constantly encourages you toward deeper maturity in this marathon. Does God really ask for perfection? Actually, yes, he does, very specifically, in fact. But the way that comes is through growth; perfection comes by progress.
During one of our Tang Soo Do devotionals, Dean Sauder once shared about the top belt levels where people quit taking Tang Soo Do lessons. The first is at the White Belt level, where people get discouraged early. We have a phase we repeat sometimes, and it’s that a Black Belt is a White Belt who never gave up. So if you are a White Belt, don’t give up! The same goes for those of you who are new in your faith. This is a process, and it takes time, and people are here to help you along the way. The second place where people most often quit is at the Black Belt level. Black Belts, don’t quit! They set their goal to become Black Belts, and they stopped once they achieved that goal. It is possible for Christians to get to a point where they feel like they’ve learned enough, they’ve reached whatever goal they’ve set, and they can relax and drift with the current. God never gave you that option! We have to keep on in the process! The third main point for Tang Soo Do drop outs is at the Brown Belt level. This is about where the warrior realizes that minimal effort isn’t going to cut it any longer. To really make progress, you have to fully invest. There are Christians who are all for becoming like Christ until it becomes difficult. They might continue along, but they never go deeper. This is a shame because they rob themselves of intimacy with God. There’s no such thing as a casual Tang Soo Do warrior, and there’s no such thing as a casual Christian. God didn’t leave that option open.
So where are you in the process of spiritual growth? Is it time to redouble your effort? Do you need encouragement to get started for the first time in a serious way? We move to an invitation time for this sort of decision. Perhaps you are convicted that you haven’t made spiritual growth a priority. Maybe you want to take that first step and place your faith in Jesus so his power can work through you. Or perhaps you want to join this body of believers to say that you know you need fellow Christians to run with you in this. However God leads you to respond, Pastor Mark and I will be here at the front to pray with you.