August 23, 2023
As many of you know, I grew up in what was once a dairy farming town. Once upon a time it had its own buggy whip factory and two milk bottling plants. By the time I came along, only one of these milk bottling plants was left, and it was a required field trip for elementary school kids. It Pasteurized the milk, but was not "advanced enough" to be able to homogenize the milk. This meant that when the glass bottles of milk were delivered to your door step in winter, the cream on top would start to freeze, expanding upwards, usually popping off the top. You were then greeted with a tall cylinder of cream sticking out of the top of each bottle when you finally got up to collect it for your morning's breakfast. Another characteristic of such small rural towns in decline, was the preponderance of old multi-generational homes. Almost all of these homes had painted door frames - usually in white. And somewhere in these homes, that had often seen more than one family grow from infancy to adulthood, there was that one door frame. It was usually in a mud room or a kitchen or a pantry. It was the communal measuring stick, charting that growth, one year or inch at a time. If you looked closely, you would see a series of lines, each labeled with a name and date. Each time you passed it, it was as if grandma had called out saying, "my, my. look how you have grown!" Farmers are particularly attuned to watching and measuring growth. It is their "bread and butter," quite literally. And "knee-high by the fourth of July," was more than a rhyme. It helped the farmer gauge whether the corn crop was thriving and on track for a bountiful harvest. Or not. For, like so many things in this life, if it was not growing, it was probably dying. A similar observation could be made about our faith. In his article, If Your Faith Is Not Growing It Is Dying, Justin Lee wrote,
Take a moment to look at all the living things around you. Take in any plants, animals, or even other people around you. All these have a few things in common, but the one I want you to think about is the fact: when any living thing stops growing it begins to wither away and ultimately dies. It is a principle that when something is no longer growing, it is actively dying. Our faith is not just some plain aspect of our life. It is a living growing thing, that this principle of life also applies to. If a Christian's faith stops growing, it will wither away until it is dead and gone.
This is why the Apostle Paul was so adamant in his letters to instruct the readers to continue to grow in their faith. Because if we stop watering our faith, it will slip away before we even realize it. So Paul was always sure to emphasize the need for believers to always be growing.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he expressed it this way,
Ephesians 4: 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ
Lee suggests that our spiritual lives should be a reflection of what the Psalmist wrote,
Psalm 92: 12-14 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.
He goes on to say,
To ensure our faith is always growing we must water it. Just as you would any other living thing, but not with water of this world. The water we use to grow as Christians comes from time spent in the Word. Time spent communing with God in prayer. Praising God and worshipping Him for all He has done. Going to church and hearing the Word preached before you and every other thing that builds faith in our lives.
One of the people who was baptized in our recent worship service said, "this is the best thing I have ever done!" And another told me that in reflecting on it afterwards, realized that it had been "a significant milestone in the growth of their faith." Some who had considered baptism were not quite ready, but three people were ready and happily took that step forward to mark their personal growth as Christians. How do you grow in your faith year to year? Some engage in daily readings; some plan to read the whole Bible in a year. Others use daily devotional guides; while others participate in Bible studies with group discussions. Others adopt study goals, or work on improving their practice of what Rev Dale Edwards called, "classic Christian disciplines." Many years ago I attended a personal development class that urged the participants to resolve "to do something big and significant every year." The slide used to illustrate the point showed a man working hard to push a large boat across the desert. I borrowed that slide and used it in my own lectures on personal development a few years later. In most music programs where students are learning to play a musical instrument there are weekly lessons on one or more songs or musical techniques. But then there are the recitals. This is where each student is asked to learn to play a harder more complicated piece over a longer period of time. The song selections are intended for the student to "stretch" their skills - to play near the limit of their current capabilities - so that, by taking the time to learn it. they have improved some playing skill. It may be playing chords they are not familiar with, or trickier fingering, or faster tempos, or more dramatic dynamics. Over time, they become capable of playing more difficult pieces. We can employ a similar concept in growing our faith. Set a goal to accomplish a difficult faith-based goal that requires you to exercise your gifts and talents beyond what you are used to. Maybe it is to study an unfamiliar book of the Bible, or wrestle with how to apply your faith in a complex situation in your life. Or maybe it is to explain your faith to someone else more fully than you have ever done before? Whatever it is, it should cause you to "stretch" and "grow" in the process of accomplishing the goal. The theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, once said,
If you want to master something, teach it!
Many of the periods of most spiritual growth in my life were accomplished by doing just that. I accepted the challenge of teaching a study or topic that was beyond my current knowledge and understanding. I had to pray and study to learn the material ahead of time in order to teach someone else what I just learned.
There is something about the fact someone might challenge your conclusion, or ask a question from a different point of view that causes you to study harder and in more depth than you would have done otherwise. And that is the point - in the process of preparing to teach, you, the teacher, are the one that learned and grew the most.
For 2023 these DeacoNotes represent a spiritual growth challenge for me. A pastor once told me that "a pastor only has one message - he or she just has to figure out 52 different ways a year of telling that same message!" As you can see by looking at the title of this note, you will see that I am only on # 40. The first handful were relatively easy, because we all have a few developed thoughts lying around in our mind somewhere. But each week it gets a little harder to find something new. And at some point, you have to actually go and learn something new to have something new to say. And when that happens, you finally understand the value of accepting the challenge in the first place.
Earlier this year the Deacons accepted the responsibility of updating the Church Directory. In working out the formatting, we discovered that we would have a blank page. When you eventually receive your copy, you will see that instead of leaving it blank, we chose to label it: "My Personal Page." And in one of the sections we encourage everyone to define a "Spiritual Growth Goal" for the year. Now, yours may not be to write 52 different DeacoNotes, but it should be something personally challenging. Something that will cause you to grow spiritually in the course of accomplishing it!
May God richly bless us as we all grow in our faith together!
Amen. Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester Colchester, Vermont 05446