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First Quarter
2018-2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

December 30, 2018 1st Sunday after Christmas

 

 

LectionAid 1st Quarter 2018-2019

December 30, 2018 1st Sunday after Christmas

Still Growing Up

Psalm 148; 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Theme: Maturity in Our Faith

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

When does a person become a “grown up”? Some young people might think they’re grownups when they turn 16 and get their driver’s licenses. Others might say that it happens when you turn 18 and become old enough to vote. Or still others would contend that you’re not really a grown up until you’re 21, when you’re old enough to walk into a liquor store and buy whatever you want.
Are you a grown up? Or more importantly, this story in the Bible causes us to ask: Are you a grown up when it comes to the Christian faith? In other words, are you a mature Christian?
Luke doesn’t allow us to dawdle around Jesus’ manger very long. Here we are, just a few days after celebrating Jesus’ birth, and already Luke is reminding us that Jesus didn’t remain a baby forever. Rather Jesus matured. He grew up not only physically but spiritually.
A fundamental mistake that many people make is that when they become a Christian, they think that’s it. They think when they say, “I believe,” that’s the end of the journey, when in fact it’s only the start of the journey. When we begin to believe, that’s supposed to mark the starting point of a lifetime walk with God, a lifetime walk where hopefully, as the years pass, we’ll grow not only in age, but we’ll also grow in our faith.
When a five-year-old comes up to us and says, “I’m a baseball player,” we know how to interpret those words. In all likelihood that child is trying to tell us that if a ball is put on a tee right there in front of him, he can probably hit it by the third or fourth try. But if you run into that same child ten years later when he’s in high school, and he says the same thing, “I’m a baseball player,” we’re going to assume that teenager isn’t still playing tee-ball. In fact, if he is, we’d probably laugh at him. With the passing of the years, we’re going to figure that he’s increased in his skill and ability, that he now knows how to hit a curve ball, how to slide into third base, and how to catch a pop-up.
Likewise, if a six-year-old comes up to us and says, “I’m a piano player,” we pretty much know what to make of that statement. At six years old, just starting out, we assume the child is able to play the scales and maybe “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But if we meet up with that same person twenty years later and they make that same claim—“I’m a piano player”—we’re going to assume she’s moved beyond playing “Chopsticks.” After twenty years of being a piano player, we’re going to expect that she has become skilled, and by listening to her play it should be obvious that she has become an accomplished musician.
The problem, though, with a lot of Christians is that when it comes to their faith, they’re still playing tee-ball and banging out “Chopsticks.” The problem with a lot of Christians is that the pages on the calendar keep getting turned, year after year, but when it comes to their faith, there doesn’t seem to be too much progress and growth taking place. The problem with a lot of Christians is that where they start out with their faith is where they seem content to stay.
But where many Christians are right now in their faith is not an OK place for them to stay. Sadly, many Christians figure they’ve completed their Christian education when they finished with their Sunday school classes as children. But if your childhood Sunday school classes are all that you have to hold on to throughout the rest of your life, that’s probably not going to be enough.
Consider this: Let’s assume that you attended Sunday school every week, 52 weeks a year, from the time you were in kindergarten right through your senior year of high school, never missing a class. You might be tempted to think that if a person did that, they would have achieved a pretty thorough knowledge of the faith. But the number of hours that student would have spent in Sunday school class over those 13 years would be the same amount of time that a public-school student would have spent in class to get from September to February of the kindergarten year.
Would anyone suggest that a kindergartner, with six months of education under his belt, would be fully prepared to go out and face the world? No, we would recognize there is still lots of room for growth. In the same way, we can’t walk out into this world and think that a kindergarten level of faith is going to get us through. If we’re going to be able to face the challenges that we’re going to come up against, then we need to be prepared. We need to be at work now to grow in our faith, so that when those times of testing come, we’ll be ready.

Exegetical Comments

One of the frustrating aspects of the Gospels is that they give us so little information about the years of Jesus’ childhood and youth. In fact, this lection today provides us virtually the only glimpse in all the Scriptures as to what Jesus was like between the time of his birth and that day when he began his public ministry some thirty years later. Basically, the final verse—verse 52—sums it up: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human wisdom.” In other words, between the time of his birth and his later baptism, Jesus grew up. He grew up physically and spiritually.
When it comes to the Christian faith, how grown up are you? As time goes by, do you see progress in your spiritual life? What would it take for you to mature beyond where you are right now?
We live in a challenging world, a world where from one day to the next it’s often hard to know what to expect. With God’s help, be at work each day to mature in your faith, so that when those challenges come your way, you’ll be ready. As the months and the years go by, don’t just grow older—grow up—grow up in your faith.

Preaching Possibilities

When it comes to spiritual maturity most of us even those of us that preach and teach the gospel are still in kindergarten. The point of this week’s sermon is to examine ever so softly the depth and maturity of our faith. We need to examine what are our spiritual goals. We need to ask ourselves where am I going spiritually? Or even more simply how close is my relationship to Jesus and what can I do to get closer to Christ. How do I strive to come closer to the image of Jesus?

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Most of the privileges and responsibilities of adulthood are legally granted by the age of 18. That's when you can vote, enlist in the military, move out on your own, but is that the true age of maturity? A growing body of science says, no. That critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so. o the changes that happen between 18 and 25 are a continuation of the process that starts around puberty, and 18-year old’s are about halfway through that process. Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That's the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.
And the other part of the brain that is different in adolescence is that the brain's reward system becomes highly active right around the time of puberty and then gradually goes back to an adult level, which it reaches around age 25 and that makes adolescents and young adults more interested in entering uncertain situations to seek out and try to find whether there might be a possibility of gaining something from those situations. (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708)

An assignment without a means of measuring success normally ends in frustration or abandonment. In the church, our work is to make disciples. But can you really measure discipleship?
Discipleship is the process of obedience to one who is in authority over you. In our study, we found people progressing in their faith prioritize God’s desires over self-will. Transformation can be seen in them, because they progressively set aside earthly delights for Kingdom priorities.
Just as Jesus said He had come to serve and not be served, so must believers. The choice to serve others is just that—a choice. It highlights a maturity of soul that we allow the needs of others to trump our own. Transformation is evident when personal needs, and even life goals, are set aside for the needs we see in others.
Inherent in being a disciple of Christ is the making of other disciple makers for Christ. Even with the need to live out the effects of the gospel, maturing believers know speaking about the message is a necessity. Transformation is evident when we talk about the source of it.
Can you measure a person’s faith? Probably not. But you can see it when it is put into action. Believers participating in the research noted they knew the importance of living by faith as opposed to living by personal strength. Transformation is seen in believers when risk aversion is set aside and lives are characterized by faithful obedience to God’s will.
People become disciples of Christ because they intend to follow Him and become like Him. A continuous hunger should arise from this life. It is referred to in Scripture as our “first love,” and believers are commanded to return to it. Transformation is seen when our desire is to know God more deeply and experience His work more fully.
Our faith is personal, but it is not intended to be private. Jesus established the church for our collective good and our collective growth. After all, humans are naturally relational. Spiritually, we are no different. As believers, our horizontal relationships with others should develop just as our vertical relationship with God does. Transformation is occurring when relational maturity is evident in our lives.
The research noted believers felt it appropriate and even necessary for others to know them as Christians and be held accountable for a life exemplary of that name. Transformation is evident when a believer is unashamed in presenting his own life as being aligned with Christ.
The adage is “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” At the very heart of Christianity is the work of making disciples for Christ. It should never sit at the fringe of our lives or the church. Through work like that of Transformational Discipleship, we are able to better recognize when we are effectively reaching toward that goal. (https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/philip-nation/recognizing-spiritual-transformation.html)

All living things grow. With human beings, we watch babies learns to crawl, to walk, to talk. We grow from total dependence on our parents to eventually being parents are ourselves. The maturing process is a journey to independence.
Our spiritual journeys are just the opposite. We start off in rebellion against God, thinking we are fully independent from Him.
Spiritual maturity, then, is the process of recognizing our complete dependence on God and learning to rely on Him rather than ourselves. As we grow and mature in our relationship with Him, we realize how much we need Him.
But for all the talk we hear about spiritual growth, it’s often difficult to understand exactly what that looks like.
Too often, churches and ministries focus on getting people into church, getting them to pray a prayer and check the “Christian” box. But after that, there isn’t always a lot of post-decision care. New people coming into the church might call themselves Christians, but they might not have much of an idea what that means on a daily basis. Following Jesus isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a daily process of growth.
That growth is a biblical imperative. The expectation of Scripture isn’t that we grow old together, but that we grow up together. The book of Hebrews lays this out as a strong rebuke:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child (Hebrews 5:11-13).
So, what does growth look like in the life of a Christian?
When you love something, you get to know it. Imagine being married and not knowing basic facts about your spouse. Not only is that ill-advised for household bliss, it’s an indication of a lack of love. When we don’t know Jesus, don’t know His gospel, don’t grow in it, that is indicative of the fact that our love for Him is either non-existent or at best immature.
Beyond the basics, anyone who has been a Christian for some time should be able to “chew” on more advanced concepts. The foundation should be built for them to grow. Too many Christians still want a pastor or leader to spoon feed them—telling them what to think, what to read, and so on. That’s not good enough for growing Christians. You absolutely should seek out a church with sound theology and Gospel-centered preaching that challenges you. But anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a year should be able—at least partially—to feed themselves.
Notice that the expectation of Scripture is that, in time, all Christians should be teachers: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). It’s not necessarily that we all stand up on a stage and preach at church, it’s that anyone who has been a Christian for a reasonable duration of time should be able to not only understand the Word of God, we should be able to teach it to others.
Teaching the Gospel is a biblical expectation for all Christians. The gift of teaching is not for all, of course, but the ability to relay, share and help others grow on a micro level is for all of us.
Peter tells us that we should be growing in grace. This is to share the heart of God. Not to desire justice or retribution for those who wrong us but for our lives to be characterized by grace. Our default response should not be anger or bitterness but forgiveness and grace. Even when people don’t deserve it. Because that’s what grace is.
The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:10, talks about bearing fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23, he lays out the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. One of the best ways to measure growth is by looking at this fruit in our lives. We are all different, and so we’ll all see certain fruit from this list growing more naturally than others. Joy may happen for you with ease and be the most challenge for one of your friends. Still here’s the thing: All of this fruit should be visible not just in our own self-assessment. Impartial outsiders should be able to observe these fruits growing in our lives. If other people don’t see evidence of this fruit in our lives, then perhaps our fruit is not growing as much as we think it is.
Paul, in Ephesians 4:13-15, notes that unity of the faith and knowledge of Jesus are measures of fullness in Christ. The war of personal preferences that dominates consumeristic American Christianity is not a result of maturity but evidence of a lack of it. It’s not wrong to have a blend of styles between churches, but the degree to which believers expect or even make efforts to change a church based on their preferences often causes a substantial lack of unity.
Paul teaches us, in Ephesians 4:15-16, to speak the truth in love and to grow in Christ—which makes the whole body grow in love. This flies directly in the face of our culture’s obsession with avoiding offense. Still, it’s God’s truth. But it also doesn’t mean banging people over the head with everything you disagree with. As you grow spiritually, you’ll learn not to avoid hard topics, but to speak into the lives of other believers—always with loving humility and grace.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to continue meeting together. In a culture moving further and further from regular church involvement, the Bible teaches that growing, mature Christians will continually and consistently meet together. We are created for community.
It’s easy to call ourselves Christians. It’s easy to stay where we are. Growing takes work. We have to be intentional.
The Gospel is like the gym: the more we get in it, the more it shapes our lives. If we only engage once a week, it will take a long time to see results. Our love for Jesus should compel us to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him, so we can become more like Him. (https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-does-spiritual-growth-actually-look)

I met a young man not long ago who dives for exotic fish for aquariums. He told me that one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium you put it in. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet.
That is like what happens to some Christians. I have seen some of the cutest little six-inch Christians who swim around in a little puddle. You can look at them and comment on how fine they are. But if you were to put them out into a larger arena—into the broad view of a whole creation—they might become great.
God help us not to be confined to a little puddle out of insecurity, but instead to see that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He made us, and if we will both have internal integrity and relate ourselves to the larger structures in the ways he has ordained, we will be able to serve him according to a holistic vision of his purpose on the earth. (https://bible.org/illustration/christian-growth)

A recent survey asked Americans at what age they consider someone to be a grown up. The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is that most people don’t consider someone to be fully grown up until about the age of 26. The survey found that most people think that a person is truly grown up only after they have completed their education, gotten a full-time job, moved out of the house, gotten
married, and had children. The average American doesn’t accomplish all of those things until they’re about 26 years old.

In the early years of the Christian faith one of the main critics of Christianity was a man by the name of Celsus. One of his primary criticisms was how Christians ran around teaching people that anyone could learn to live a moral life. Back in ancient times the general consensus was that morality was something that only the very educated and elite were capable of. So Celsus laughed at the Christians for saying that everyone was able to do that, that everyone was able to grow and develop a sense of right and wrong. Unfortunately, many Christians today must tend to believe what Celsus was saying. Many Christians today take the attitude that constantly growing in the faith is something that only saints and other spiritual giants are cut out for. Many Christians give up, and they figure that where they are right now in their faith is an OK place for them to stay.

In the Word Before the Powers, Charles Campbell tells about how on the day after France surrendered to the Nazis during World War II, the pastor of a church in a small village in southern France got up into the pulpit and reminded his congregation that Christians have a responsibility to resist violence and evil. But that minister didn’t really have to convince his people about that fact. That was something they already knew deep inside of themselves. In fact, they knew their Christian responsibility so well that they immediately put their faith into action. During the next four years, as the war raged on, the approximately five thousand people of that village gave shelter to and saved the lives of more than five thousand Jews, even though the Christians knew that if they were caught, they’d be killed. During the course of the war, quite a few of them were caught and killed. Years later a Jewish man decided to do a documentary about what those Christians in the village of Le Chambon had done. But when he asked the villagers what led them to make the bold decision to help the Jews, he was surprised by the somewhat puzzled looks on their faces. Many of the people responded by saying something like, “It just happened naturally. We can’t understand the fuss. We’re Christians, and we just helped people who needed to be helped.” They were able to do that because they had grown up; they had matured so much in their faith that when the time came for action, they were ready.

Some affluent families aren’t taking any chances when it comes to the raising of their children. A new industry has arisen in New York City during the past several years where parents pay advisors to help them get their children accepted into the most prestigious nursery schools, so that, as a result, they’ll have an advantage when it comes to applying for the most prestigious kindergartens. The New York Times reported that these advisors charge as much as $300 an hour or a flat $3,000 to give their counsel. Parents justify the expenditure, pointing out that the amount is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $300,000 they will likely pay for the child’s overall private education through high school. To illustrate how competitive some kindergartens have become, Columbia Grammar School recently received more than 500 student applications for 34 open positions.

We might wish that someone would have recorded more of the details of Jesus’ early years. Presidential candidate Bob Graham, for instance, prepares a daily diary that goes into such detail as listing how much time he spends applying scalp medication. The Pentagon is currently seeking bids to create electronic “diaries” for their LifeLog program. The goal is to be able to record all aspects of a person’s life by means of sensors, microphones and cameras.

Learning the basics is a part of growing up. A school superintendent in Massachusetts, though, apparently doesn’t agree with that. The Superintendent of Schools for Lawrence, a town of slightly more than 70,000 people, has failed his state-required English literacy test three times. He angrily told local reporters, “It bothers me because I’m trying to understand the congruence of what I do here every day and this stupid test.” You have to wonder what his reaction would be if students who get F’s on their exams in his school district would offer the same comment.

Sometimes it seems that children are asked to grow up faster than they used to. An education official in Asbury Park, New Jersey, gave the graduation speech to a group of local students. In his address, he warned the young people about the horrors of drugs, alcohol, and pregnancy, and how those sins had the potential of ruining their entire lives. The ceremony that the education official was speaking at was a kindergarten graduation.

Peter Gomes of Harvard University observes that until the 1970s the noted prep school Groton offered its students only rather Spartan rooms to live in. In fact, each student was assigned a cubicle, which had no separate door or ceiling. Moreover, the rooms had no place for stereo systems, DVD players, or televisions. In the mornings, the students would line up to wash themselves in metal basins and take cold showers. The thinking was that most of the boys who came to Groton were from wealthy families, and they wanted to make sure they didn’t grow up to become mere playboys. Rather the school sought to teach the boys to become good and useful by instilling in them traits like modesty and self-control. But today such schools as Groton have altered their approach. The student rooms now includes every conceivable amenity. The focus now seems to be primarily on how to seek success rather than on how to develop character.

“Let’s learn to grow up before we grow old.” (John Wimber)

“Happy is he who makes daily progress and who considers not what he did yesterday but what advance he can make today.” (Jerome)

Though the phrase has been much overused, it is still true that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise a mature Christian, which is part of the purpose for the existence of the church after all. Jesus’ earthly parents could not give him all he needed to grow; he had to be with others in the faith community. So it is with all of us, no matter what our chronological age or our spiritual maturity.

In his baptismal hymn “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” Ronald S. Cole-Turner celebrates the acceptance of an infant into the family of God. He calls the infant “Child of love,” “Child of Joy,” and “Child of God,” each time declaring that the child is part of the human and part of the church family, all of whom are delighted for this day of celebration. In the last verse he tells the child to “listen for God’s call” and urges the little one to “grow to sing and laugh and worship” in an ongoing trust.

The great Indian revolutionary leader Mohandas Gandhi grew by stages from a fearful English-like barrister, so timid that he could not argue his first court case, into the fearless champion of the poor and challenger of British rule in India. Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi uses an intriguing visual technique to show the transformation of Gandhi, his clothing. When we first see Gandhi, he is dressed in a stiff-collared white shirt and tie over which he wears a formal cutaway coat and impeccably cut trousers and shined shoes. As he begins to work among the middle-class Indian businessmen in South Africa, he dispenses with the tie. When he first returns to India to meet with members of the anti-British National Congress, Gandhi adopts a turban and white jacket and loose trousers. However, as he draws closer to the masses, and especially the Untouchables, Gandhi chooses to wear their chief, and often only, article of clothing, the dhoti, a large white loin cloth. The changing clothing styles, from the elaborate outfit of a London lawyer to that of a field hand or latrine cleaner (Gandhi cleaned those at his commune and insisted that the others also do this work of an Untouchable!), shows the interior growth of his mind and spirit. Gandhi, like every human being, even Jesus according to Luke 2:52, did not spring forth fully mature, but grew into it slowly through years of challenging experiences and much study.

Sometimes our children have a more mature faith than we realize or recognize. Last year I was on crutches for several weeks and had to hobble from place to place. For a few weeks I needed help, but eventually I was able to maneuver fairly well. One Sunday I was making my way from the sanctuary to the Christian Education wing. “Do you need help?” several parishioners asked. “No, I’ll catch up,” I said. And then one seven-year-old girl, who had walked past me with her friends, suddenly stopped, turned around, and came to my side and began walking with me. “Go on with your friends,” I told her. “I’ll be there. “No,” she said. “I’m helping you.” “But Julie,” I said, “There isn’t anything for you to help me with.” And those solemn brown eyes looked at me and she said, “You told us in the children’s sermon that Jesus wants us to love each other. I’m loving you.”

Last summer about six of us were giving the church offices a much-needed makeover. We rearranged furniture, cleaned the rugs, and painted each of the rooms. Our “team of experts” consisted of five adults and the granddaughter of one of the women who had come to help. I began taping off the trim in preparation for painting, and young Rebecca was instantly at my side wanting to help. I was pulling off large pieces of tape for myself, but not quite trusting her six-year-old abilities, I gave her several small pieces of tape and she began slowly taping off the floorboards. I tend to talk to myself when I work, so I was saying things like, “there we go” and “okay, good.” Rebecca also began saying, “there we go.” I smiled, amused. At one point, I pulled off a piece of tape too long to use, so I ripped it in half. Immediately, I heard another ripping sound. Rebecca had ripped her tiny piece of tape in half...because that’s what I had done. It was at that moment that I realized that she was watching my every move, trying to mimic both my words and actions.
As our children grow up, they mimic what they hear adults saying and see adults doing. We can be their greatest teachers. What will we teach them about the Christian faith?

In the book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, author John Ortberg defines spiritual growth as seeking “to perceive what Jesus would perceive, if he looked through our eyes, to think what he would think, to feel what he would feel, and therefore to do what he would do.” When Jesus’ parents came to find him in Jerusalem, he said to them, “did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” Even at twelve years old, Jesus was seeking his Father’s will. As Christians, growing in our own faith means that we continue to seek to do what Jesus would do, think, feel, perceive.

Sometimes growing up means we have to be willing to give up some of our immature attitudes and actions. As children, we may have carelessly said to someone, “I hate you.” As adults, we are faced with Jesus’ daunting command to “love one another” and forgive one another. As children, we may have said, “I’m never speaking to you again.” As adults, we’re called to look past our woundedness to forgiveness and reconciliation. As Jesus grew and matured, he increasingly became “about his Father’s business.” So must we.

A young woman, being groomed for upper management level jobs with her bank, embezzled money from the bank. She was a rising star. They confronted her after giving her an opportunity to confess. She cleaned out her desk. They told her that, if she made restitution, there would be no criminal charges. It then hit her that others would find out what she had done. Her father and mother who loved her and who bragged on her to all the relatives would have to eat crow. She went to her minister for help.
How can I escape? Is it a good time to go to another state and begin again? Would it be better if I went back to school? The failure to respect another’s property only revealed her character. It was not an act out of character with her life. She was told that the proper thing to do would be to face her mistake, admit it to those she must, and make the restitution. Admitting one’s mistakes doe not make one anything, but running from them in denial reveals everything about one’s failure to grow up.

They appeared at the minister’s study with their twenty-nine-year-old daughter in tow.
She was expecting, and they wanted her to have an abortion. She had her doubts about it.
It might be the last pregnancy she would ever have. The discussion centered around the cleanliness of the clinic, the fact that no man would be attracted to a woman her age with a child, and the need to get beyond this. When asked about putting the baby up for adoption, the parents said, “We could never give away our grandchild.” Three days later they forcibly took her to the clinic and now are very concerned about the fact that she says she will not forgive them. Growing up is the hardest thing anyone has to do, because it means becoming fully responsible for one’s acts.

A family could make a significant impact on the growth of their children by doing something as simple as eating together. Researchers have repeatedly found that families that regularly eat together have children who are less likely to smoke, use drugs, drink, have sex at a young age, or get into fights. Regular family meal times have also been correlated with students doing better in school. To promote family meals, this past September 22 was designated “Family Day.” The sponsoring group (www.casafamilyday.org) urged employers to let workers leave early that day, and they requested that schools not schedule activities during dinnertime.

As the Christian church today seeks to help people mature in their faith, the church would be well advised to consider the frustration that the Alexandrian philosopher Plotinus experienced. He complained, “They are always saying to us, ‘Look to God!’ But they do not tell us where or how to look.”

Many people hesitate to mature in their faith for fear of what changes that might bring about in their lives. It’s like Ambrose Bierce’s comment that a “Christian is somebody who lives a life of virtue insofar as it is not incompatible with a life of pleasure.”

“One of the marks of spiritual maturity is the quiet confidence that God is in control...without the need to understand why he does what he does.” (Charles Swindoll)

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.” (John MacNaughton)

“The work of God is held back not by bad men and women, but by good ones who have stopped growing.” (M. P. Horban)

In the baptismal liturgy of the United Church of Christ, one of the questions for the parents of a child being brought for baptism addresses the issue of growth, but for the parents, not the child. “Do you promise, according to the grace given you, to grow with this child in the Christian faith.” The implication here is that parents recognize they still need to grow in their lives of discipleship and that their witness to the child will help that growth, if they remain open to it.

Sometimes a person doesn’t reach maturity until rather late in life. This is the case of a 38-year-old bachelor in the movie About a Boy. Will can sit around all day and watch television because he is supported by a rich legacy left by his deceased parents. He has never made a commitment to anyone, and he seeks out datable single moms by attending support groups and pretending that he is a single parent. This is how he meets Marcus, an uptight 12-year-old boy worried about his deeply depressed mother. The boy attaches himself to Will, showing up at Will’s apartment and following him around. Shy and picked on at school, Marcus desperately wants a father figure. He turns to Will for guidance because he is the only man the boy knows. Will resists at first, but the boy will not be dissuaded. A shopping trip marks the beginning of Will’s journey to maturity. He treats Marcus to an expensive pair of sneakers and a stack of CDs. Before long Will is forgetting himself in his concern for the boy. By the end of the film Will has helped the boy, entered into a loving relationship with a woman (though not Will’s mother), and discovers that life at its deepest is one of commitment to others.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

(Based on Col 3:12-17)
Leader: God has chosen us! Let us live then as God’s people!
People: Let us fill our lives with compassion and kindness! Let us be guided by humble hearts and patient spirits!
Leader: Above all else, grow up in love! Let God’s love so fill our lives that we become bound together as one community of faith!
People: Whatever we do—whether we speak or act—let us do everything for God’s glory!

Prayer of Confession

Creator God, You call us to be Your children, yet as the years pass by, instead of growing in our faith, we fail to grow in our relationship with You. Like children, we learn the basics, but somehow, we lose our motivation to press on and pursue the deeper matters. Like children, we play at our faith, failing to commit ourselves as seriously to You. Forgive us for the many ways that we neglect to grow up. By the empowerment of Your Holy Spirit, lead us and change us into the faithful disciples. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Eternal God, even though Christmas Day is past, You continue to give gifts to us. Every day You shower us with blessings, more than we can even count. Instill in us grateful hearts so that in everything we do, we may offer our thanks and praise. In the name of our Lord and Savior we pray. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

God of the ages, as this year swiftly draws to a close, we thank You for all the ways that You have been a part of our lives. We are grateful for the blessings of family, friends, and health. We celebrate the ways that You have seen us through times of crisis, and we praise You for those times when Your strong hand has been there to uphold us. Throughout every day, week, month, and season of this past year, You have guided us and have brought us to this day.
And so, we pray that You will continue to be our Leader throughout the coming year. As we continue on this journey that we call life, keep us from becoming comfortable where we are. Spur us on and encourage us to strive toward the goal that You have set before us. Give us the ability to let go of those habits and deeds that are holding us back, so that we might fully take hold of the richer, fuller life that You intend for us. As the months and years pass by, we pray that we might grow not only in age, but also in wisdom, knowledge, and maturity. Take our lives and shape us each day more and more into Your image. We ask this in the name of our Rock and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.