A father helping his son learn to ride a bicycle

Learning to Fly

A father helping his son learn to ride a bicycle

Training Wheels

For Augie’s birthday this past August we purchased a new bicycle for him. His old one was getting a bit small, and a bike is always a great gift in my book. After having no luck at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Augie found one at Target he liked‚ÄĒI suspect the neon-like green on it was a factor. Into the bed of the truck it went…well, after we paid for it, of course. ūüôā

Now, I knew we were taking a chance. The bicycle was the right size, but Augie had not actually learned to ride one yet…and there were no training wheels on this model. My hope was that if I took him to the paved play area at the elementary school (right next to our apartment complex) he’d learn quickly (and with minimal spills).

Let’s just say that it soon became clear that my hope wasn’t going be fulfilled. It’s not Augie’s fault; I hadn’t taken him out enough previously on his old bicycle. We had to switch back to his smaller bike with training wheels.

I’m sharing this with you because when I was, unsuccessfully, trying to get Augie to ride his new bicycle I noticed several reasons he did not succeed:

  • First, he didn’t even sense a need to balance.
  • Second, he plain just didn’t have the coordination.
  • And third, he didn’t focus (for instance, he would look over at other kids playing when he should have been looking at where he was going).

Basically, as much as he liked riding the birthday bicycle he wasn’t ready to do it on his own, and he needed training wheels.

There is a sermon hidden in there somewhere…

Of course, a preacher doesn’t need even this much to have something to spawn a sermon from. ūüôā

I would suggest that Augie’s experience can be analogized to the spiritual…and let’s see how together…

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

First, he didn’t even sense a need to balance

The first thing I mentioned was that Augie didn’t even sense a need to balance…and when it comes to the lost today, I think one of their biggest impediments is they don’t recognize their need for a Savior.

  • Evolution, almost injected from birth into them by media, school, and sometimes parents…tells them that there is no god…and that there is no need for one for the universe, and life within it, to exist.
  • Society, progressively, tells them whatever makes them feels good is good…and that it is a sin is to tell someone else their sin is a sin…(and that they should get their morals from the politically correct nanny state instead of the Bible).
  • And Christianity, via its often hypocritical followers, basically tells them the Judeo-Christian God is make believe, and that, at best, Jesus was a great, very-human teacher whose followers hijacked His message.

Like Augie didn’t sense his need to balance his new bicycle, the lost don’t sense their overwhelming need for a Savior…a need that has eternal implications.

And on that note let’s recognize together that I’ve gone on too long to have not opened up my Bible, so let’s turn together to Romans 1:18-22:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

It may seem odd to have you read those words given that I just posited that people don’t sense their need for a Savior. I fully agree with those words and these from David:

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

Folks who choose to accept evolution…folks who choose society’s judgments over God’s…and people who choose to use the hypocrisy of Christ’s followers to reject Christ…

Choose to not recognize their need for a Savior. Of them David also penned these very applicable words:

1¬† The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;

there is none who does good.

2  God looks down from heaven

on the children of man

to see if there are any who understand,

who seek after God.

3  They have all fallen away;

together they have become corrupt;

there is none who does good,

not even one (Psalm 53:1-3).

And I can’t help but think that what Jeremiah wrote about his fallen nation summarizes modern unbelievers too:

Thus says the LORD concerning this people:

“They have loved to wander thus;

they have not restrained their feet;

therefore the LORD does not accept them;

now he will remember their iniquity

and punish their sins” (Jeremiah 14:10).

The lost want to be lost. They love their sin and don’t want us to shake things up by pointing out just how bad their condition is. They do not seek after God. They love to wander. They have not restrained their feet.

Augie didn’t recognize his need to balance. Before we were saved, we chose not to recognize our need for a Savior. Praise God He busted through our obstinance!

Second, he plain just didn’t have the coordination

The second issue Augie had was that he just didn’t have the coordination to ride a bicycle without training wheels. Now, that wasn’t his fault…it takes time to develop coordination.

Switching back over to the spiritual analogy I’ve been making…even after the Holy Spirit breaks through our rebellious choices and we become a child of God…we don’t suddenly become “coordinated Christians.” Sure, once we’ve recognized our need of a Savior the excitement and thankfulness for Jesus’ work on the cross may give us zeal for the Lord…but we are still like a 6 year-old going without training wheels for the first time.

There is a decent chance you’ve heard 1 Timothy 3:1-7 when studying the qualification of an elder, but have you ever spent much time thinking about verse 6?:

6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6).

Do you think Paul was being snobby? That, after all he had suffered for the gospel he didn’t want some new, charismatic believer able to lead when he should be allowed to?

Of course not! God may instantly convert the heart…but this isn’t like “The Matrix” movie where someone can just program all the wisdom in Scripture into a person’s brain. It takes time. It takes patience.

And that is why God has appointed elders…shepherds…to be our “training wheels” when we first start out:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2¬†shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3¬†not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4¬†And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5¬†Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:1-5).

Now, I would personally argue that our need for these “training wheels” never entirely goes away. Yes, after some great shepherding by our elders (and regeneration through the Holy Spirit) we should be “coordinated” enough be able to spend 99% of our time without training wheels. However, even the most spiritual, wisest person on this planet has not “arrived.” I suspect there have been many falls of “great” (in quotes) Christian leaders that could have been avoided if they recognized their lack of “coordination” in certain areas…their need for training wheels. As Paul so succinctly puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:12:

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Third, he didn’t focus

Our last application of my “Augie without training wheels” analogy has to do with the fact he didn’t focus.

So…God has broken through your hard heart…you recognized your need for a Savior…and you repented of your sins, turned toward the Lord, and joined the body of Christ by being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And, you’ve kept your spiritual training wheels on and developed mature spiritual coordination.

But…there is still a danger…a danger that was true before you took the training wheels off..and remains.

A danger in losing focus.

Augie didn’t keep his eye on where he was going and, even if he could balance, would have crashed.

No focus…no success.

To help think about that, compare and contrast Paul’s words to Timothy:

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:11-12).

With Paul’s words to the Galatians:

6¬†I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel‚ÄĒ 7¬†not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8¬†But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9¬†As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).

When speaking with Timothy we hear some of Paul’s confidence in his “true child in the faith” (see 1 Timothy 1:2)…and when speaking with the Galatians we here a very concerned Paul saying, “What the heck are you doing?!”

However, in both cases we see God exhort them to hold on to what they were given previously…and avoid everything else. Perhaps Paul’s letter to another church that had some focus issues says it best in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

A boy on a bicycle will not make it very far if he doesn’t focus on where he is going (training wheels or not).

An athlete in a race, no matter how fast he or she is, is not going to when if he or she does not focus on the finish line and runs aimlessly.

A Christian who does not focus on disciplining his or her body and keep it under control may not make it to eternal life…(and if he or she still gets over the wire, it will be by the “skin of the teeth”).

Where are you in all this?

So, listener, where are you in this analogy of mine?

Are you the bicyclist who doesn’t recognize the need to balance…the non-Christian who does not realize the need for a Savior?

Are you the bicyclist who should still have training wheels on…the new Christian who still needs training wheels?

Are you the bicyclist who doesn’t keep an eye on the road…a Christian, new or old, who has lost focus?

If the first…the unbeliever who doesn’t recognize your need for a Savior…listen to the Spirit…let it open your eyes to your condition…and stop loving the sin that is killing you. You have the same disease we all do, but there is a cure. Recognize your need for that cure…visit the Great Physician…and accept it. Repent. Turn from your sins and to the Lord. Be baptized.

If the second…a new Christian who still needs training wheels…

First, welcome to God’s family…praise our Lord you are a part of it! However, don’t rush it. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yes, you should not require training wheels forever…but if you rush it your injury will be far greater than that of a 6 year old who tries to ride a bicycle without them and crashes. Listen to the elders God has put in your life. Read the Bible daily. Pray for wisdom. Learn. Remove the training wheels cautiously.

If the third…a Christian who has lost his or her focus…we can always debate whether “once saved always saved” or not…but there are plenty of words in Scripture that implicitly scream “smarten up!” (For instance, take a look at Hebrews 6:1-8.) Exercise self control, both in action and in thought. Do not run aimlessly. Do not get disqualified.

Next spring I hope to get Augie enough experience so that he can use his new, sans training wheels, bicycle.

If you don’t recognize your need for a Savior, are a Christian who needs training wheels and doesn’t have them, or a believer who has lost focus…

You cannot wait another minute, let alone until spring.

Learning to Fly

We’ve spent a lot of time comparing aspects of salvation and Christian growth to learning to ride a bicycle, yet I titled this sermon “Learning to Fly.” Why?

First, “Learning to Fly” sounds more exciting than “Learning to Ride a Bike,” doesn’t it? ūüôā

Second, back when the topic first came to mind, so did the “Learning to Fly” title. It just seemed to fit.

Finally, and we’ll wrap up with these verses from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, isn’t flight what we are working toward?:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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