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Thom and I were out running around several weeks ago and he said, “Do you have any goals for 2021?”  I said, “Yes.  I want to declutter our house and clean out all of the closets.”  It’s something I had thought about doing since last summer.  Did you catch that?  I had thought about it since last summer, and before the New Year started, I got started with cabinets in our bathroom.  I took a whole black trash bag full of trash out from under one of the two sinks, one, people.  I mean it looked like an episode of Hoarders…Not really, but yeah, kind of.  The point was, it took me six months to move from thinking about it to doing something about it.  And guess what, I haven’t done any more decluttering since that day!

A good friend of mine from Cincinnati, Tracy Payne, posted a picture this past week which had this caption, “It has taken me 8 years to purge this office, but I’ve finally done it!  Every nook and cranny!  Isn’t it beautiful?!”  Her post about 8 years of procrastination made me feel better about my six months and my small progress. It got me thinking about all that we put off. We’ve thought, “I’d really like to learn to__________” and we put off even taking the first step.  We just keep thinking of what we’d really like to do.  Whether losing weight or acquiring a skill or branching out into new friendships or whatever the case may be, thinking about it, having a desire to do it, won’t get the job done.  We need more than passion.  We need a plan, and we have to implement it if we are going to live well, to live strong, to live an abundant life.

What about our spiritual growth?  Do we stay at surface level because we never move past thinking we’d like to grow, thinking we’d like to expand our knowledge or faith? One day, we’d like to read and study the Bible for real.  One day, we are going to commit to spending time in prayer every day.  One day, we are going to explore fasting and Christian meditation.  One day, we will start to tithe.  One day, we will witness to other people. Do we move past thoughts of growing deep in Christ and do something about it or do we get stalled? Is it that we don’t know where to start or how to start or do we just allow the pressures of life to command all of our time instead of us controlling where we invest our energy? 

If 2020 revealed anything to us, it probably revealed how spiritually strong (or weak) we really are.  You know you find out what’s in a tea bag when it is placed in hot water.  What’s inside comes out at that point.  What came out of us in 2020 when we were placed in hot water?  Was it faith or fear?  Was it peace or conflict?  Was there greater trust in God or did other things become our source for strength, comfort and truth?  What did we do when our life was changed and not by our choice?  What did we do when people held opposing views about how to handle the pandemic?  What did we do when people began to tear each other down on social media?  What did we do when there was fear of extended lock down and martial law?  How did we handle it? 

Did we handle our circumstances with mature Christian faith or did our response look closer to that of the world’s?  I don’t know about y’all, but often, I felt as 2020 unfolded that I was watching an unending episode of the Jerry Springer show.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of attacking.  Lots of rude talk and behavior.  Lots of chaos. 

And now, with the events of this past week, with the eyes of the world all watching the same chaos, even greater division was created by everyone’s separate interpretation of what really happened.  We all saw what happened, but we will never agree on what actually happened. What do we do with that?  If there ever was a time in my lifetime that the church needed to be the church it is now!  Our country is off course.  Our country is in trouble, but the good news is that our country is ripe for the message of Jesus and mass revival!

You and I must be focused on going deep with Jesus so that we can be what is needed in the world as we move into the future.  If 2020 revealed we didn’t have the spiritual roots needed to weather storms like we have been through we best be focused on getting some roots put into some spiritual soil.  We cannot continue to put off becoming immersed in the spiritual activities that will prepare us to be God’s people in any situation.  God gives help to the world in Divine ways and in response to our prayers, for sure.  No doubt.  But God’s plan to bring help to the world is for us to be like Jesus in the world.  We can’t do that through good intentions.  It will only happen as we become like Jesus first in a private, deliberate way that enables us to move into the public square to speak and move and act in His authority and with His love.  We cannot speak for Jesus if we don’t know what He has said or what He wants to say.  We cannot act like Jesus if our hearts haven’t been conditioned to respond to the heartbeat of God. 

This transformation takes place as we spend time with Jesus, intentional time with Him, going deep.  Listen to I Peter 2:1-3:  Therefore, RID yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Rid.  Crave.  Grow up.  Say it with me, “Rid.  Crave.  Grow up.”  Peter says we are to rid ourselves of some things and that we are to crave some things in order to grow up in Christ. I believe this is a formula for building spiritual strength.  These activities should be on the daily to-do list for every believer.  We need to rid ourselves of some things that are toxic and are hampering the development of our faith.  We need to take out some trash in our lives that is preventing our spiritual roots from going deep into the soil of spiritual things.  We need to crave or cultivate an appetite for the things of God by being Word-centered, Worship-centered, Faith-centered, Prayer-centered, Hope-centered and by always being ready to give an answer to the hope that is within us.  And we need to do these things every day in order to gain the spiritual strength we need to meet life’s challenges and in order to be the people of God.  After all, that is the goal. 

If you read on in I Peter 2 you see that we have been chosen by God to be a royal priesthood while here on the earth.  We are to be people of light, people of joy, and people of praise.  We cannot do that if we have no joy.  We cannot do that if we have no peace.  We cannot do that if we have no spiritual power. 

Allow me to summarize Peter’s message in this sentence:  We need to put aside some things and put down spiritual roots in order to grow up and be God’s people.

Peter said that in order to grow up in Christ we have to RID ourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.  Getting rid of stuff is my goal for 2021.  It won’t happen by simply acknowledging that my house is too crowded and by picturing what my closets will look like once I get them organized.  It is going to take effort.  I will have to schedule time to do it.  I will likely have to say “no” to some other things in order to have time to get rid of what I need to get rid of. 

Why does God want us to get rid of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind?  It’s because those are practices that aren’t consistent with the holiness of God and they will keep us on shallow ground in our faith. They will also keep us from being successful in our witness to others. Malice, wanting to intentionally embarrass or upset someone or “take them down” or ruin their reputation is reprehensible for a Christian. How can a person complete an assignment from God when clearly spreading malice is to complete an assignment from the devil? 

He goes on to address all deceit.  Distorting the truth for misleading purposes, to manipulate someone’s thoughts or emotions, this is the work of the devil.  I am so tired of sound bites and photoshopped images that don’t tell the whole story.  I also fear that believers have fallen prey to online articles and news sources that will not tell the truth but only their version of the truth because they have an agenda to accomplish.  It’s not just that believers have fallen prey to those outlets, but I fear believers have adopted the practices of partial or twisted truth in their communication as well.  Believers, we are commanded to walk in truth.

Peter goes on to say we have to get rid of hypocrisyThe antidote to hypocrisy is humility. Leading with a judgmental or critical spirit is the way the world operates.  I am not saying don’t offer instruction or correction.  I’m not encouraging you to back down from Christian convictions and biblical principles.  I’m just saying if we don’t do everything in love our approach is worldly and hypocritical. You can be bold and courageous and humble and loving at the same time.

Envy is next on Peter’s list. We know the Bible tells us to live a life of contentment and to keep our eyes on Jesus and not on what other people have. The danger of envy is that it causes us to pursue what other people have which puts us in danger of missing what God has for us.

Peter ended his short list with slander. Slanderous statements harm people’s reputations and create division.  We aren’t to have a part in any of that. Worldly wars are about pitting people against each other.  We are to operate out of the wisdom and power of a different kind of Kingdom that brings people together under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now listen, Peter’s list isn’t an exhaustive list.  Maybe there wasn’t something on the list that struck a chord with you, but maybe your life has gotten cluttered with other things that have taken your time and focus off of growing in Christ and has resulted in spiritual weakness that has been revealed during 2020.

If you are a Christian, the most important thing you can do for yourself, the most effective thing you can do to war against Satan, and the most strategic thing you can do for the Kingdom of God is to grow deep in Christ.

We need to get our rear in gear, folks.  Yep.  You heard me.  REAR IN GEAR.  Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

We have got to take out the trash, to remove the clutter, to clean out some closets to rid ourselves of spiritual hindrances. Some of us are holding onto anger that isn’t helping us.  Some of us are tied to the past in a way that is keeping us from growing spiritually.  Some of us are in fights with friends and family for various reasons.  Some of us are complacent and lazy.  Some of us are blaming the pandemic as to why we are spiritually anemic.  Some of us have given ourselves over to addictions and strongholds that are keeping us from experiencing God in His power.  God says, “Enough.  Put away excuses and rid your life of every stumbling block.  Do whatever it takes to remove whatever is hindering your spiritual growth.”  Christians, it is time to detox!

In addition to getting rid of spiritual hindrances we have to develop a craving for spiritual things. Peter said in verse 2 of I Peter 2: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk.”  When you crave something there is an intensity about it.  When you crave something, you formulate a plan to have the craving satisfied.  You make the drive to Krispy Kreme or you set aside the money to save for the trip.  When you crave something, you also do something to satisfy the craving. 

It’s easier when the craving is natural, when the craving is just tied to your personality and natural drive, but what about when there is little desire?  What if you aren’t craving the things that lead to spiritual growth?  You have to cultivate a desire.  You have to will yourself to do what is necessary in order to make progress.  If you believe that growing in Christ is important and necessary, if you understand it as the path to abundant life, you can make the effort to do the things that will help you develop a craving for them.

I’m not someone who woke up one day and said, “I just love to exercise.  I can’t wait to exercise. Show me the aerobics class. How many times a week can I get there?  How many days a week can I walk?  How often can I increase my step goal? How many things can I cram into my fitness routine?”  None of that happened, initially.  But, I committed myself to exercise well over a decade ago (I know, shocking that I still look this way, but alas) I committed myself to exercise well over a decade ago and not only am I faithful to do it, but over time I began to look forward to it, and I don’t want to miss it.  If I do have to miss a class, I find a way to get out and walk to make up the time.  And I am not in those classes three days a week (plus my walks) just going through the motions.  No, Sir!  You ask any of the ladies in there with me, I am going for it. I put it all out there! Why?  Because I have a desire to offload stress.  I have a desire to position myself to move into my senior adult years from a place of strength.  Because I know that exercising my heart and stretching and moving my body actually increases my energy.  Because I feel better when it is over, and I know I sleep better when I exercise and because I know my sugar is better when I exercise.  And quite frankly because it is fun to be with others who are putting themselves through the same torture. 

What I am trying to say is that my desire for exercise increased as I did it, and I experienced the benefits of it because I did it.

Listen, if you will get into the Word of God on a regular basis and commit to a routine, you will begin to crave it because what you read won’t just begin to make sense and instruct you in a way that you can understand, but it will also cultivate a sensitivity to the voice of God and you will begin to hear God talk to you in your daily life when you aren’t even reading the Word. 

We’re told here by Peter to crave spiritual food as a baby craves milk.  When a hungry baby is eating, that baby is all in, right?  That baby is focused on that bottle or on whatever is on that spoon that is headed their way.  They aren’t looking around to see what else is going on.  They are laser-focused on their food.  Nothing else matters.  Do we pursue God that way?  Are we determined to meet with God to the point that we turn our phone off and remove all other distractions in order to allow Him to feed us? 

We will never go deep with God if do not develop an appetite for the things of God.  I had someone recently tell me that they had never understood the joy of witnessing until they really began seeking God.  As a result of intentionally seeking God they began telling others about their life transformation, and it sparked an incredible joy in them to keep talking to people about Him.

Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  It is truly those with a fierce desire for the things of God who will get filled. 

If you are going to grow your desire for the things of God, your heart will have to be invested.  You will need to let walls down.  You will need spiritual accountability.  You will need to seek out people with whom you can grow.  I will be teaching a discipleship class both on-site and online on Sunday nights at 6 pm beginning Sunday, January 24th.  Part of the class involves three weekly homework assignments to help you be in the Word throughout the week.  Those who cannot make it in person can participate via Zoom.  We also have Sunday School classes you can take.  Maybe you haven’t been in the habit of coming to church on Wednesday nights.  How about cultivating your desire through adding that service?  In a few weeks I am going to talk to you about increasing your desire through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  It is clear to me from Matthew 5:6 that the people who get blessed and filled are the people who are hungry for the things of God.

How hungry have you been for God this past year?  How deep have your spiritual roots grown?

You don’t just wake up one day and say, “Today, I am going to be filled with the strength and the power of God.”  That strength and that power have to be acknowledged and utilized on a systematic basis over time.  Just like the building of a muscle.  I can’t walk up here and say, “Today, I will lift 150 lbs over my head.”  That becomes possible when I start with repetitions of 25 lbs.  That becomes possible when I have consistently done the heavy lifting of the day in and day out routine.

As a Pastor, I have a front row seat to lots of faith moments.  None was more inspiring or encouraging than watching Margie Sadler pray for her husband while he was in the hospital.  Her faith in God and in what God could do never wavered even up to the night before his passing.  Just a few days before his passing, Hannah and I paid a visit to her.  In that visit, she had this to say, “No matter what happens to Chuck, nothing can take my Jesus.”  I knew in that moment that Margie Sadler’s spiritual roots ran deep.  What I was witnessing in that moment was what results when you hunger and thirst after righteousness day in and day out and year after year after year.  What I got to see firsthand was what it means to be blessed and filled with the unshakeable presence of God. 

Today I believe God wants to uproot and pluck out some things that are hindering our ability to receive the Living Water that we need in order to be firmly planted of the Lord.  I also believe today is the day God is calling you to give Him the chance to grow spiritual desire in your life by making a concerted effort to put down spiritual roots in the well of His Word and by spending time with Him.  Today we are each invited to rid, crave and grow up.  May God have His way.  May the Spirit have freedom.  May His children step up in order to drink deeply of the Living Water in order to put down the kind of roots that will keep us strong no matter what.

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