Are You a Spiritual Child

By Erin Bird

Missed any of the previous three entries in this series? Quickly catch up on the Riverwood blog.

I love kids. And not just my own kids – but kids in general. I love their enthusiasm. I love watching them learn. I love their energy. I have enjoyed interacting with kids pretty much since I was in high school. In fact, when LeAnn and I got married, we had barely said “I do” when I admitted I was ready to become a dad. And I hope one day I get the joy of being a grandpa. Suffice it to say: I think kids are great.

However, I don’t have a rosy view of kids. I do not think they are perfect and can do no wrong. I realize kids, as they are learning, will make mistakes. I realize they will have meltdowns. I realize they will (in some moments) lie to my face. And they might haul off and hit their sibling without cause.

And yet, I still love kids. When my oldest was only 2 1/2 and LeAnn was pregnant with our second child, a stranger at a church conference (who was a bit older than I and further along in fatherhood) gave me parenting advice: “Enjoy every stage they are in – all of it: the good moments and the tough moments. Because it all goes by way too fast.”

Spiritual Kids

While I tried to take the stranger’s advice home, I have also tried to apply it to ministry. When a person becomes a follower of Christ, they do not jump to “Complete Spiritual Maturity” in an instant. They first become a spiritual infant as we talked about last week. But as they begin to understand more about faith in Jesus, they move to “knee deep” in the river of Christ and become a spiritual child.

What a great place to be! A child isn’t nearly as dependent upon their parent as an infant. A child actually begins to contribute to the family, whether helping put the clean dishes away or picking up their toys in the bedroom. Spiritual childhood is a stage where great growth can occur.

But it is also a stage in which that many Christians get stuck. I’ve known some Christians who have been church attenders for 50 years, and yet they are still in spiritual childhood primarily because of the keyword that defines this stage: self-centeredness.

It’s All About “Me”

Let’s all admit: not matter how “mature” you or I might be, each of us is selfish. Some of us might be more self-centered than others (don’t ask me to share my ice cream!), but deep down, each of us is self-centered to some degree.

But this focus on “me” is at the front of thought in a spiritual child. For instance, a spiritual child might…

  • …rate a church based on how much “I” liked the music or how much the sermon spoke to “me.”
  • …get bent out of shape when their service to the church family isn’t properly thanked.
  • …throw a fit when their Growth Group births a new Group, sending some of their friends to help start the new Group.
  • …be easily offended when not given enough attention by leaders in the church.

Therefore, a big part of spiritual growth is to move from self-centeredness to Jesus-centeredness. Which means it is time to take an honest look inward…

Self-Assessment Time

As I said last week, in order for you to grow to your next stage, you have to be honest about your current stage. So let me ask you this week: are you a spiritual child?

And just like I said last week when talking about spiritual infancy, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A SPIRITUAL CHILD. Most of you reading this have been spiritual children, many  still there in this stage. (To be honest, I believe the large majority of American Christians are in this stage of spiritual childhood. So it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is simply a stage I don’t want you stuck in.)

So be honest with yourself. Read through the following statements, for they are common thoughts many spiritual kids have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay  attention to the recommendations which follow.

A Few Common Thoughts of Spiritual Children

  • I don’t want any new people to join my Growth Group or church family – I like it just how it is.
  • I’m just too busy to help or show up each week.
  • I know Jesus loves me, but I gotta do more to keep Him happy.
  • That person doesn’t love Jesus as much as I do because they don’t listen to Life 101.9.
  • I am serving all the time, but no one seems to notice or care.
  • I don’t like the music/sermon/chairs/color scheme/carpet, so I’m going to find a better church.

If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then perhaps you are currently a spiritual child. So what should you do?

Next Steps for Spiritual Kids

First, if you are a spiritual child, there is an underlying assumption you are already doing the steps laid out last week for those who want to grow out of spiritual infancy: being discipled and engaging in spiritual disciplines.

With that said, here are two steps you can take to help yourself mature into becoming a spiritual young adult.

Step 1: Connect with the “family”

Just like a child in the physical realm learns so much about life through their family, spiritual children learn through being part of the church family.

While Sundays are a good time to connect, far better is connecting through a Growth Group. Sunday mornings are like a fun, meaningful, weekly family reunion, but our Growth Groups are the supper table where conversation goes deeper, prayers are more personal, learning more customized, and laughter more genuine.

So get into a Growth Group this fall and do whatever you can to keep that time slot clear in your schedule to connect with others through prayer and Bible study. Just as kids are easily distracted, don’t allow your schedule to distract you from the more important task of spiritual growth.

Step 2: Give your FIST

Another key to move from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood is to give of your FIST, your Finances, Influence, Skills & Time. When you give of your FIST, you combat the self-centeredness that lurks inside. Because rather than keeping these things for yourself, you are giving them away as an act of worship and as a way to bless others.

So give some time to your neighbor and don’t expect anything in return. Give some money to help pay someone’s medical bills or help Riverwood purchase our building. Give your skills to help the Worship Team or a local nonprofit. Give some of your influence in Kids Creek or on a local board. Open up your FIST to bless others.

Closing Encouragement

Let me close with a similar sentiment to last week’s closing: if you recognize some spiritual childlike thoughts within yourself, do not be embarrassed. Instead, embrace the stage you are in, and eagerly seek to grow. Be heartened to know that you can grow so much more rapidly in your spirit than you can physically. Which means if you really give yourself to this process, it won’t take a decade to move to the next stage like it does for a kid. It could take just a couple years or even less for you to  mature into a spiritual young adult.

Jesus in the Future

Jesus in the Future

By Erin Bird

Back to the Future

Let’s get back to our series called The Same. To jog your memory, we are looking at Hebrews 13:8 which teaches us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Since we’ve already looked at “yesterday” and “today“, let’s wrap things up this week by looking at “Jesus in the Future.”

When I think of the “future,” I tend to think of a time far away. Maybe I’ve watched way too many sci-fi films, but I think of “futuristic” things like flying cars, or what the world will be like for my great grandchildren. In other words, I think about days I will never see.

But in the Scripture, the “future” isn’t always seen as “some distant day you will never experience.” The future is often viewed as being much closer.

Take 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18. This is a fairly famous set of verses about the second coming of Jesus. Many people tend to think about the return of Christ as coming in years, decades, or even centuries from now. Yet Paul doesn’t talk about Christ’s return as if it will happen in two-thousand years. Rather, he talks as if it could happen at any point in the future – even his future.

Seeing Paul’s viewpoint helps me see that the future isn’t about far-off days. The future includes tomorrow– a day I will most likely see. And what is so encouraging to me about this is that Jesus will be the same reliable Messiah tomorrow as He is to me today!

I think this is why Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). If I can trust Him with today, I can trust Him with your tomorrow, as well as trust Him with my eternity.

So if you are a Jesus-follower, you can face whatever comes tomorrow, because Christ will be with you. You can trust Him with your next month, because He will still be the same. And you can trust Him with the very end of your life, because He will keep you for eternity.

The Present Jesus

The Present Jesus

By Erin Bird

We are continuing our little series from Hebrews 13:8 entitled The Same. Hebrews 13:8 says:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Last week, we saw that Jesus is the same yesterday. So this week, as we continue the chronological progression, we’ll see Jesus is the same in the present.

The Same Comfort for Today
In the first week, I shared how I prefer “new” things and not routine. Yet, if I’m honest, some routines or consistencies are comforting. For instance, I find it reassuring the sun comes up each morning. I’m thankful air is consistently available to breathe. And I like having pizza every Friday night (just don’t serve me the exact same pizza every Friday!). There can be great comfort in knowing something is the same today as it was last week.

That’s what the author of Hebrews wants us to realize: the consistency of Jesus should bring us comfort and inspiration. You don’t have to wake up each day wondering what mood God is going to be in. His love, mercy, justice and character are the same each and every day… including today.

Today’s Comfort Comes From Yesterday’s Faithfulness
But there is something else I want you to see. In the verse just before our key verse for this series, the author says,

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

Have you ever respected someone so much you wanted to be like them? Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, a famous athlete, or a mentor. You looked at them, their demeanor, their character, their accomplishments, and you found yourself wanting to imitate them.

The reason you respected them so much is because you saw their consistency. By seeing how they behaved “yesterday,” you had an idea of what you needed to do “today.”

The author of Hebrews encourages his readers to do something similar, to look at their spiritual leaders, the ones who taught them the Gospel, and to “imitate their faith” by remembering how they behaved “yesterday,” so the reader might know how to behave today.

man & woman looking at a crossBut then the author takes it a step further. He doesn’t just point to the spiritual leaders, he points to Jesus, the most consistent of all. You can look at Jesus’ sacrifice through the cross “yesterday” and let it inspire you to “live like Jesus lived” today.

So let me encourage you to allow the knowledge of Jesus’ presence in the present to comfort you, but let His selfless actions through the cross of “yesterday” inspire you to live selflessly today.

Jesus in Yesterday

Jesus in Yesterday

By Erin Bird

We are continuing our series entitled The Same which we began last week. Our key verse for this little series is Hebrews 13:8, which says:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Last week, we began by looking at the central character of this verse. In order for us to appreciate His sameness, we spent our very brief time together seeing who “this Jesus” is.

So this week, I’d like to look at the first word in the chronological phrase at the end of the verse: yesterday.

The Yesterday of Jesus
Because Jesus is eternal, He doesn’t truly have a “yesterday.” As God the Son, part of the great I Am, Jesus always has been. There was never a time when He did not exist. In other words, He is outside of time itself. Therefore, He can’t truly have a “yesterday.”

However, Jesus did “appear” on earth before the Incarnation (His birth). These appearances are called theophanies: moments when God appeared on earth, sometimes in physical form. Many scholars believe these theophanies are appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ.

For instance, in the book of Daniel, three young Jewish men were thrown into a fiery furnace as punishment for not bowing down to a false god. Yet when the misguided King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire to see the destruction of the three Jewish teens, he saw a fourth man among them, who he described as looking like a god.

I could also talk about Jesus’ appearance to Abraham in Genesis 18, or when He showed up in the night to wrestle Jacob in Genesis 32, or even when He appeared to Ezekiel in all His glory in Ezekiel 1.

And so in a sense, Jesus did appear in His “yesterday.”

The Yesterday of You
While it is kind of fun (if not theologically geeky) to think about the “yesterday” of Jesus, the reason the author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus is the same “yesterday,” is that He has been the same throughout your life, including your yesterdays.

The struggles many people face in life are due to things that happened “yesterday.” Thankfully, the cross is powerful enough to restore you despite those damaging moments! How encouraging to know that no matter what you did in your past, or what was done to you or around you years ago, Jesus was with you, consistently loving you.

At the same time, some people think their best days are in their past, which leads them to be frustrated with their not-as-awesome present. However, if those “good ol’ days” were Christ-honoring, then they should lead us to worship rather than despair in the humdrum of today.

So may you realize that the same Jesus who appeared to Abraham, Jacob, Ezekiel, and Nebuchadnezzar is the same Jesus who forgives your past sin and provided past joy. And may this realization lead you to let go of those painful moments and worship because of the positive ones!

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