The Good Old Summertime!

When I was a teenager our local radio station used to play an ad at this time of year that went something like, “In the good old summertime, in the good old summertime. Keep your radio on for more fun in the sun, to WARM radio.” Without a doubt we have hit the time of “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” Yesterday’s temperature was in the 90’s!

I think most of us are happy that the seasons come and go. I know I am. Bring on the summer, but I’ll be more than ready for fall come September. I have aged to the point where I’d be satisfied with a shortened winter season, though. Then back to spring and around we go again.

The summer is vacation season for many. It’s not difficult to understand why. We’ve been “cooped-up” inside over the cold winter months. Now the sun is warm, the pools and beaches are open, the aroma of steaks sizzling on the grill is wafting through the air and the great outdoors is beckoning to us! No more “cabin fever!” In Pennsylvania a local TV newsman used to say we should get outside and “Enjoy, enjoy!”

We all need time to relax and be refreshed. My wife and I didn’t have a lot of money for family vacations when our kids were small. So we had to be creative. We found inexpensive things we could do as a family and in the process created some wonderful memories. We had picnic lunches, went to museums and historical sites, took drives in the country, and the like. There are always things you can do.

Having been a full time pastor for the past 38 years I’ve come to understand that summer season affects the local church also. Church attendance and participation tend to move down a few notches in our sense of what is important. It’s an uncomfortable subject to bring up. On the one side, as I said, we all need some rest & relaxation. But on the other side, we all need the strength that comes from community and worshiping together.

Someone will surely say, “Yes, but I can read my Bible at home.” My comment would be that we should all be doing that AND worshiping together. Another statement I’ve heard is “I’ll just watch Christian TV!” My concern? Christian TV is not a viable substitute for worshiping together. The biblical principle is “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,…” [Hebrews 10:24, 25a] We all have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other.

My recommendation then? Enjoy the summer. Take a vacation. Get outside and enjoy some summertime activities. Just make your home church a vital part of your summer too. Attend, participate, give, sing, worship, serve, and fellowship. You won’t regret it!

Are You Growing Spiritually?

Ephesians 4:14-16 [New Living Translation] Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Someone once said that anything living continues to grow. Dead things have ceased from growth. This is true both naturally and spiritually. But there also is a glaring difference: natural growth happens spontaneously while spiritual growth requires attention.

Recently I read some statistics acquired from a national survey of churches. With over 250,000 respondents, this survey carries a lot of weight. It seems that, in measuring spiritual growth, some of the indicators were quite surprising. In the churches surveyed, one out of every four regular attendees was not growing spiritually or even interested in growth. Apparently they just enjoyed fellowship with Christians. Also it was discovered that, for those who are relatively young in the Lord, involvement in lots of church activities helped the growth process. Conversely, for those older in the Lord, these activities didn’t carry the same punch. [I guess it’s not just about how busy we are!]

There was one true indicator of spiritual growth according the book I’ve been reading. Let me give you their words:

If all churches could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice is clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible – specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives. The numbers say most churches are missing the mark – because only one out of five congregants reflects on scripture every day. [Move by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson]

When considering all the different aspects of spiritual growth it’s interesting that reflecting on scripture proves to be the most potent. I can’t say that I’m really surprised though. In rebuking Satan Jesus declared, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” [Matthew 4:4] Clearly this means that it is the Word that sustains life. In Mark chapter four we find the parable of the sower, a parable that Jesus says is a key to understanding all parables. In explaining this parable, Jesus clearly states the value of the scriptures: “The sower sows the Word.” [4:14] The word of God, the Bible, the holy scriptures – by whatever title we refer to it, is the seed. It is the catalyst for growth.

The apostle Peter spoke of the Bible in this manner: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” [I Peter 2:1-3] It is the Word that provides inner strength and growth.

The apostle Paul declares: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17] Faith is a vital necessity to us as Christians. Add to that the quote from the writer of Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” [11:6] In fact, I would say that any growth we might attain without the Word of God may turn out to be growth that is detrimental to our spiritual health.

No, readers, spiritual growth is not automatic. If you’re not interested in this growth it’s not going to overtake you anyway. As a pastor I can’t pray spiritual growth on my church people in spite of themselves. Intercessory prayer makes God available, but we are each individually responsible for our own lives.

We should be asking ourselves, “Am I growing in Christ as I should? Is my relationship with Him deeper and richer now than last year? …last month? …last week? …yesterday? No one is spiritually more mature just because they’ve been saved for a long time. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. As has been said in the past, Christians have to make some effort just to stay even. We’re going uphill – against the stream. We have to keep peddling the bike or paddling the canoe if we don’t want to fall back. [See Hebrews 10:35-39]

How important is growth to you? You’re the only one who can answer that question.