It was around August 20, 1959 when a cry was heard . . . and heard . . . and heard! It was me. I was wailing, and wailing, or so I’ve been told by my mom who was probably traumatized by the event. I’m telling you, I was a mess. Couldn’t eat by myself, probably threw up on everybody and besides that I wet my pants over and over again. If you had been there, you may have been tempted to brand me as a loser who’d never make it, but you really needed to be more patient because, you see, I was only three days old. I didn’t need to be shot or even spanked at that point, at least. I just needed to grow up.
It was during the school year of 1970 when I met her. I thought she was the prettiest girl in the fifth grade. Her dad was a preacher and so was mine. I used to walk her home from school. I thought I was in love, but in just a few years I had forgotten all about her. If you’d have talked to me, you might have told me I was a hopeless romantic who would never settle down. But that really wasn’t the problem at all. I just needed to grow up.
Fast forward to 1976. I was driving by that time. Mom and Dad had gone to North Carolina for the whole week and left me alone because my Grandmother was very sick. They left me strict instructions not to allow anyone to ride with me in the car. I agreed to their terms, but my girlfriend was just down the road from me and I just really thought it would be cool to take her to the mall. Pulling out at an intersection, I was looking at her instead of traffic and plowed right in the back of some guy’s beautiful fastback Mustang. If you’d have been there you might have called me a careless liar, or a bad driver, or both. You might have said “You’re barred from driving forever, and you might have been justified. But, the truth is, what I needed more than punishment was time. I needed time to grow up.
Fast forward one more time to 1986. I’d been in full-time ministry for two disastrous years. Now I don’t call them disastrous because I destroyed the church I was in or because people didn’t like me. They were disastrous because of what was going on in my heart. In my heart I had checked out. I was burned out and fed up, so I left the ministry and, for 7 years, I tried to make my own way in the world. If you had been there, you might have written me off and said, “That Rusty’s a spiritual loser. He quit once; He’ll quit again. He cannot be trusted.” You know, there would have been a lot validity in those words, but the truth is, what I needed was not condemnation. I needed to grow up.
What about you? Need to grow up? You’re here today and that habit of sin is plaguing you. You want to stop going to those internet sights, but every time you promise the Holy Spirit that was the last time, you find yourself right there again and the cycle of guilt starts all over. The more judgmental among us might say something like, “If you really loved Jesus, you’d stop. If you were really saved, you wouldn’t have a problem with that. If you’d have your quiet time, you’d stop that.” Now some of those things might really be true, but I rather suspect that’s not your problem at all. You don’t need condemnation, you just need to grow up.
You might be plagued by a dirty mouth. You grew up in a verbal sewer. All around you was terrible language and you just picked up naturally. But then you gave your heart to Christ. You thought those words would never come out of your mouth again, but even now when something happens, you can say some things you later regret. There might be some who would say that a cursing tongue and a godly heart cannot go together. They might even tell you that you’re not saved, but I rather suspect that what you need is not salvation but sanctification. You don’t need conversion because you already belong to God. You just need to grow up!
And I can hear what some of you are saying: “Hey, is this supposed to help me Rusty? I’ve got these big spiritual problems and, instead of really understanding them and trying to offer a proper solution, you just say, in essence, GROW UP? Well, if that’s true, I’ve got one question for you. How? How can I genuinely grow up?
Well, the answer’s right where it’s always been: in God’s Word. In fact, Peter addresses your growth in 2:1: Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
The purpose of this little paragraph of scripture is found right there. We are to lay aside some things and as babies crave milk so that” we can grow thereby!” That’s the purpose: Peter is saying, “Do these things and you can grow.” Well, we’ve struck pay dirt here. This passage promises exactly what we said we needed: growth. But just how does it tell us to go about seeking that growth. Well Peter, here, describes a process by which growth can occur in our lives and I want you to understand and, yes, apply that process to your life. So just in case you fall asleep in the next few moments, let me just tell you right up front what that process looks like. Here it is: The key to growth is desire; the key to desire is experience; and the key to experience is surrender. Now let’s look at this a little more carefully. In the first place, if you want to grow, you must understand that
DIV 1: THE KEY TO GROWTH IS DESIRE.
Now the reason I say that desire is the key to growth is because that is so clear from this passage. As a matter of fact, desire really is the thing that catalyzes growth. You see that in v 2 where it says “As newborn babes, (literally) crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow. . .” Isn’t that amazing? Paul reaches out and grasps the most poignant, powerful picture of desire here. Once a baby is established in their feeding and they get the grasp of sucking on a bottle, heaven help you if you don’t get that bottle there on time. Babies are big bundles of one thing . . . well, maybe two: Needs and desires. They want what they want, and they haven’t learned to sublimate those desires yet, so they’re always right on the surface where you can see them . . . and mostly hear them.
Our grandson Riley (you knew if I was talking babies, I’d end up here, didn’t you), is without a doubt, the best-looking, fastest-growing, popular, smartest, and, in general greatest little kid alive. But he does have his moments. Like when we were coming back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. We thought we’d outsmart him and wait till bedtime to come home. That way, he’d just go to sleep. WRONG! What we forgot was that if we traveled at night, he’d be more tired then than at anytime during the day. He screamed a good part of the way home. No! I’m not exaggerrating when I say “screamed,” he screamed. Now what was his problem? He was one big desire at that point. He wanted to sleep; He wanted to be out of his chair; he wanted a bottle; he wanted something he wasn’t getting, but whatever it was he wanted, HE WANTED!! He was craving.
Now craving is not a bad thing, at least in this setting. You see, before I can grow, I have to have a craving. Children that do not crave milk or food will not eat and will not grow. If I do not crave the things of God, I will not take in the things of God and I will not grow. It all begins with desire. Desire catalyzes growth.
And since it is the catalyst for growth, we are commanded to desire the things of God. Notice v 2 again. It says, “As newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow . . .” What this verse reveals is that, although growth is normal for living things, it is not automatic. It requires effort on our parts. This verse commands us to crave pure spiritual milk so that we can grow. One writer said: “Craving, and therefore presumably partaking of purse spiritual milk is to their new lives what milk is to a newborn, the very sustenance of life.” It all begins with desire. Desire catalyzes growth.
What you see here is a picture of a church. I know it looks like a chart, but it really shows a picture of Peace Church. In 1966, this church averaged 146 in attendance. By 1969, it was at 188. In ten years, by 1979, it had grown to 487. After a little plateau in the ‘80's, we took off again in the 90's, reaching 569 by 1999. By 2009, we had reached an average of _____. Now, there have definitely been faster growing churches, and, by the way, numbers certainly aren’t the only measure of growth, nor maybe even the best, but they do tell a story. My point is not to make us feel good about numerical growth or anything like that. My point is to try to connect you with why this church grew.
Now, let me say right off the bat that genuine spiritual growth must come as a work of the Spirit and we must rely on Him, not ourselves. But let me also hasten to say that through the Spirit there has been an ingredient here at this church that is often lack in some other places. That difference is this: There has been a strong desire to grow. Back in the 70's it was scenes like this. That guy with pie on his face is Rodney Whaley. This church was always having contests like this to get people to come to church. It was a lot of work, but we had a strong desire. In the last ten years everything from Christmas Theater, to camp, to Upward Basketball has been used. It took a lot of work but there was a strong desire. Whether you’re talking about corporate growth or personal spiritual growth there is one common characteristic: Desire. It catalyzes growth and 1 Peter commands us to have it.
Peace Church, may we never lose our desire to grow! That goes for us as a corporate body. The desire to grow must trump every debate. If we’re trying to decide whether to build, the question must not be, “Can we afford to do it?” but “What will help us grow?”
And that doesn’t just mean growth in numbers. We must always be asking, “What can we as a church do to help our people grow closer to Christ and desire Him more and more?” This question must trump every debate. If you’re debating worship styles, the question is not what I like but what will increase my desire for God. If I’m debating ministry plans, the question is not what other churches are doing, nor even what will increase our attendance, but what will increase our corporate desire for God’s presence. If you’re debating how to spend God’s money, the question is not what new ministry, etc., do people want, but what will increase our desire for God. If desire causes growth, we must make the pursuit of and desire for God the top agenda item of everything we do here.
And it also applies to me as an individual. Personally speaking, there are at least two obvious causes why you may not be growing. For one thing, if you aren’t growing there is always that possibility that you’re dead. Yes, as amazing as that revelation might be to you, this morning, dead things don’t grow. So if you’re not growing there is the possibility that you just have never had the Holy Spirit alive in you and you are not a living, spiritually breathing child of God.
But if you are saved and you know that you are saved, there could be another reason: It could just be that your desire to grow is weaker than your desire for other things. You see, I believe that is where the large majority of us really are. We do want to grow at some level, but we want other things more than we want to grow. So if it is desire that causes growth, what is it that will increase my desire for God. Well, Peter answers that question. Not only is the key to growth, desire,
DIV 2: THE KEY TO DESIRE IS EXPERIENCE
Now the minute you mention the word “experience,” some people get nervous. They become afraid that we’re about to jump on the world’s relativistic bandwagon and ride over the cliff of charismatic delusion. So, before you take your spiritual valium and turn me off, let me hasten to explain what I mean by “experience.”
I take it right from this passage. You can’t get away from the fact that Peter is talking about an experience here. I see that in verse 2 where He commands us to crave. That’s a very experiential word. We aren’t to sterilely an and stoically take in the things of God, we are to desire them.
And just what are those things we are to desire? Well, if you have a KJV or an NKJV version of the Bible it says something very specifically that we are to “crave.” It says, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. Now, the truth is, that’s not exactly the way it reads in the original Greek. Literally, it says this, Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk. That phrase “of the word” isn’t really there. Now it’s easy to understand why the KJV translators supplied the phrase because if you go back up to the end of chapter 1, you see that very clearly the Apostle Peter was talking about the importance of the Word of God to the development of our love for one another.
“Well, then,” you might ask, “why are you bringing it up?” Well, simply because, while I do definitely think that Peter meant to tell us that a means of our growth was a craving for the Word of God, I think he intended more than that. I think he also meant to say that we are simply to crave the entire experience of knowing. We are to long to experience everything about that.
Now, when you broaden the meaning in that way, then verse 3 begins to make more sense. He says, As newborn babies, desire pure spiritual milk, that you may grow thereby, (watch!) If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. That word “tasted” there has to do with not just sticking the spoon in to see if you’ve got enough salt in the soup. No it’s taking a big old cup and getting a generous portion so that you know how good the soup is. You experience the soup. That’s what’s being said here. I am to crave knowing God if I have indeed had an experience with Him.
O, but it gets better! What does v 3 tell us that we are to experience about God? It says, If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is (what?) Gracious! The Greek is crestos and it’s a wonderful word, but it’s not one we use a lot. Can I tell you some other places in the New Testament where this word is used? Consider Luke 6:35: But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is (there’s our word) for He is crestos or kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Or consider Romans 2:4 where Paul tells us as sinners, Or do you presume on the riches of his (and here it is) kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s (again, our word) kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But, here’s my favorite place: Matthew 11:30. This is the place where Jesus was talking to the Jews and telling them that, even though the Pharisees had placed heavy burdens on them, burdens that they could not bear, that they should come to Him, all those who were weary and heavy laden and He would give them rest. Then He says in v 30, For My yoke is (here’s our word, crestos) my yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Do you now get a feel for what Peter is saying when he tells us that we should taste and see that the Lord is gracious? He’s saying that we are to crave God because we have experienced the fact that our Lord’s yoke is “easy.” God is easy to live with! God is gracious! He’s not like an overbearing dad who always finds fault, but never wants to help us. He’s gracious. Do you want to know how you increase your desire for God? You experience Him, and when I say you experience Him, I tell you that you experience that our God is GOOD, our great God is crestos. He is gracious.
There used to be an interesting tradition in the third century. In some circles, when a convert was baptized, they would give them a cup of milk, mixed with honey and the convert would drink it. This was to symbolize that they were beginning a wonderful experience with a gracious Father. And may I tell you today that when you really experience this gracious God, your desire grows. If desire is the key to growth, experience is the key to desire.
I can find no better illustration of this than the clip I’m about to play for you. I found it on Youtube, but it is one of the most profound things I’ve found.
Coach Wooden’s experience with his wife gave him such a longing for her and such a desire to honor her that every month for 25 years, he wrote her a love letter after she died. Desire flows from experience. In your Christian life, the same thing is true. The experience of knowing the Lord and accepting His easy yoke grows in your heart a strong desire to really know Him and it is that desire that rocket-fuels your growth.
But so many Christians never have this experience! For one thing, they don’t know its possible. They think of God as being so powerful and strong that He would never want to have a relationship with them, or they think of themselves as being so bad or sinful or spiritually weak, that God would never want to have relationship with them. Listen, believer, I don’t know how to tell you about this so that you get it. There is a powerful change that waits for you! It is possible to know God! I’m not talking about knowing the facts of Christianity or the finer points of Theology, I’m talking about really knowing Him. Nothing would change you more nor make you grow more than really having a hunger, a craving to experience Him. You see, experience brings a desire for God and it is that desire for God that causes you to grow in Him.
But if all that is true. If desire is the key to growth and experience is the key to desire, what, then is the key to experience? How can I truly experience God? Well,
DIV 3 THE KEY TO EXPERIENCE IS SURRENDER
V1 gives us the condition which must be met if we are to truly experience God and find the growth we are to crave. It says, that we are to “ . . . (lay) aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking. Notice the action mentioned here: We are to “lay aside” these things. Literally we are to take off as if we were taking off our jacket these things. We are to lay them down.
Now, Peter gets very specific. He talks about 5 things we are to “take off.” The first is malice. In some contexts this can mean “evil,” or “depravity;” in this context it would speak of hatred or ill-will. The second thing we are told to lay down is deceit. That word speaks of some one who talks or acts with ulterior, hidden motives and is less than honest. Hypocrisy is the third sin we are to lay down. It means “any type of pretense or deception before God or man. Envy is defined as a state of ill-will toward someone else because of some real or perceived advantage. It’s the feeling you have when your best friend pulls up in the porsche he just bought with his lottery winnings. You are smiling, but in your heart you’re asking, “Why couldn’t that be me?” The last sin is “evil speaking.” It is kin to gossip and describes what happens when we seek to belittle another person behind their back.
Now you’ll notice that all these things Peter says to lay down are issues of relationships. Peter tells them that, in order to grow, they have to keep their relationships with other believers healthy. They have to lay aside the things that tend to tear relationships apart. Under the intense pressure of persecution and a strange new society, there may have been some of the believers who had taken out their frustration and stress on their brothers and sisters in Christ. Peter is telling them that they have to give up that tendency. They have to “lay it aside.”
But I really don’t think that the Apostle Peter meant to propose an exhaustive list when he mentions these five things they are supposed to “lay aside.” He was addressing what was most important at that time with these people, but I think the application is much broader. He could have just asa easily have asked them to lay aside sexual lust or greed or any other sin. The point is not the particular things he mentions here. The point is the verb: There are things we must “lay aside” if we are to truly experience God. We must surrender. Jesus said it like this: If any man after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. The prerequisite to truly experiencing a relationship with Christ has always been, and will always be . . . surrender. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Jesus bids a man to come and follow, He bids a man to come and die.
And I know that some of us . . . check that! . . . ALL of us struggle with surrender. I bet you that most of you in this room who heard me quote that verse about taking up our cross would agree that such surrender is the key to the Christian life. We know that we should surrender but we just do not want to do so. Why not? Well, I think it may be that somehow think that this surrender will not be worth it.
That’s what Liz Curtis Higgs thought. Liz Curtis Higgs was one of the best-known disc jockeys in America, and she lived quite a…wild lifestyle without God. In fact, Howard Stern was the A.M. show, and Liz Curtis Higgs was the P.M. show. And one day Howard Stern said to Liz, “You know, you need to clean up your act.” Now, that really says something if Howard Stern is saying it.
And because Liz Curtis Higgs had been burned by so many men, and her heart had been broken…he became a militant feminist. And I underscore, militant feminist. But she had a Christian girlfriend who kept inviting her to church. So one day after a long, long time, she said, “Okay, I will go to church one time and one time only.”
So she went to church one time with her friend. And that week, the pastor just happened to be teaching on the Bible verse that says, “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands.” Not exactly a good verse to start with a militant feminist. And she got a little uptight, a little ticked, a little angry. But she continued to listen, and she actually heard the second part of the verse.…You see, the second part of the verse says, “And husbands—you sacrifice yourself; you give yourself for your wives just as Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the church and died for her.” Who is asked to give their life up? The husband.
When Liz heard that part, she leaned over to her friend and said with a little cynicism, “I’d gladly give myself to any man if I knew he would die for me.” And her friend leaned over and said, “Liz, there is man who loved you enough to die for you. His name is Jesus Christ. That’s how much he loves you.” And it was not long after that that Liz dropped her guard, surrendered her life to God in love, and became a believer. Today she is a well-known Christian author and speaker.
This is such a great picture of surrender. Liz started out thinking she could and would never give her all to Jesus Christ. But when she heard about the man who had given His life for her, she gladly surrendered. What made the difference? Well Liz began to value this potential relationship with Christ more than she valued anything else.
And the truth is, that’s the answer: Value! The key to surrender is not belief. It is value. This is where we miss it. I can say I believe something all day long, but if I don’t value it more than I value other things, it does not change me. Let me give you some examples:
We say we “believe” in giving, but we don’t give. Now the reason we do not give is not that we do not believe the Bible teaches us to give. It is clear. Verses like Hebrews 13:16 we are told that sharing is one of the primary ways we worship God. The problem is not that we do not believe in giving. The problem is that we do not value giving more than we value paying our cable bill or going out to eat. It’s not just a question of belief. It’s a question of value.
We say we believe in purity, but we look at porn. The reason we look at porn is not because we believe that the Bible clearly says it’s ok. Just about all of us have read that if a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he’s already committed adultery with her in his heart. The problem is not that we do not believe that purity is commanded. The problem is that we do not value purity more than we value sexual gratification.
We say that we believe in honesty, but we take money under the table so that we don’t have to pay taxes on it. The reason we do that is not because we believe that the Bible says it’s ok to cheat. We’ve read what Jesus said when He explicitly told us to “Give to Ceasar (or you could say the government) the things that belong to the government. The problem is not that we do not believe that the Bible commands us to be honest, it is that we do not value honesty more than we value not having to pay a big tax bill. It’s not a question of belief, it’s a question of value
And here’s the deal: Surrendering to God means that I surrender to His values. It means I lay aside my substitute values and fully embrace His. That is how I come to fully experience Him. You see, it really comes down to this. If I want to be motivated to adopt God’s values, I must answer these questions. First, Who do you believe? Your values are open to outside influence and your enemy is busy 24/7 trying to sell you on his values. Just turn on your TV and get a good dose of greed and selfishness. Turn on your Ipod and get a full cup of worldly wisdom. Turn on your computer and be subjected to lust. Satan is always trying to get you to value life His way. Your values come down to who you believe. Do you believe that Satan, the master marketer has your best interests at heart? Who do you believe?
The second question you have to answer is Whom will you trust? What I mean by that is your values will never change in your own strength. You can try and try, but the same sinful nature that makes the enemies values appealing in the first place will sabotage your every effort. No! You need help from outside of you. You need to stop trusting in yourself or trying in your strength. You need to fully surrender all of who you are to everything He is.
C. S. Lewis knew about this surrender. He began as a self-described atheistic intellectual. For two years he struggled with this. The Holy Spirit was working on him until he finally discovered the joy of surrender. He writes of his conversion:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him of whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 [May 22] I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? … The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compassion is our liberation
Lewis said something else about this kind, yet hard demand Christ makes for our surrender. He wrote:
"Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours."
And it was Lewis who also wrote:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
You see, it all comes down to a choice. Satan, your enemy is saying, “You can’t give up my values. You’ll be miserable. You’ll never be happy again. How will you make it without your alcohol or your drugs or your money or your lust?” But Jesus, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. I can change your life. If you will just surrender to me, you will taste that I am easy and my burden is light. If you will experience me like this, I’ll fill you with desire and that desire will work such growth in you that in 12 months you’ll turn around and you’ll realize that you’re no longer the man or woman you used to be. You will grow!”
Now I do not doubt that at some level we really do “believe” in purity and in giving, but the problem is that we value something else more.