How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?

-Measuring Physical Growth Is Easy!

Measuring “physical” growth is relatively easy, isn’t it? And, we begin measuring physical growth from birth, don’t’ we? How long is the baby, in terms of inches; and, how much does baby weigh? Right? That’s always one of the first questions asked! And, the measuring continues as baby grows into a toddler; and, then elementary age. Many homes have a measuring wall; or, a doorway, with all kinds of little pencil marks & words alongside it with a child’s name & age representing how tall they were at that specific age. Do you have such a place? Measuring physical growth is also a pretty exact science too, isn’t it? This is your “HEIGHT”; this, is your “WEIGHT”! This is your “inseam”, your “waist”; and, your “neck size.”

-Measuring Spiritual Growth!

But, measuring “SPIRITUAL” growth isn’t as easy, is it? It’s our tendency to measure others “SPIRITUALLY”  by how much they know about the Bible, doctrine, and, theology. So, if someone’s level of Bible knowledge is how we judge their level of spirituality, than it follows that we think of “SPIRITUAL GROWTH” as adding more “KNOWLEDGE”—more Bible reading; more Bible studies; and, more Church activities! And, yet, it’s curious that the Apostle Paul taught the Church of Corinth that, “…knowledge puffs up…” (1 Cor. 8:1); or, it INFLATES us with PRIDE! Who hasn’t met the arrogant “know-it-all” that keeps reminding you how much they know about the Bible? They beam proudly when others brag about their Bible knowledge. Paul is saying that—in their case—knowledge isn’t a measure of how spiritual they are; but, how CARNAL & FLESHLY they are! Knowledge is their IDOL!

-Bible Knowledge & Spirituality!

Now, please understand that I’m not ragging on anyone who has a growing knowledge of God’s Word! On the contrary, Scripture demands that we read it; memorize it; and, meditate on it! In fact, it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from a steady diet of God’s Word. I’m simply saying that Bible knowledge is NOT an accurate measuring tool for spirituality! So, if it’s not more Bible knowledge; than, what is it that grows us spiritually? I like to say that spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; & less like you! How does that happen?

-It’s Not By Osmosis!

How do we become more like Jesus? Well, it doesn’t happen by some process of osmosis! Rather, it happens by our “SANCTIFICATION” Scripture says! At the moment of our salvation—when we exercise faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—God “JUSTIFIES” us! That means He pardons us from sin’s penalty—death! And, from that point forward, we are destined for “GLORIFICATION”—that day when we’ll finally be set free from the very presence of sin; and, we’ll be “like Jesus.” And, “SANCTIFICATION” is everything that God is doing in your life, in that time in between, our SANCTIFICATION & our GLORIFICATION! If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been set FREE from the “power” of sin! Your spirit long’s to be rid of sin; while, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after it! It’s in that tension where God works in us!

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What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!

 

What Makes You Happy?

-The Things You Delight In!

Your happiness is contingent on the things you delight in! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In v.1 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked…”; and, he follows that with v.2, “Instead (or, in contrast to the BAD ADVICE of the wicked in v.1) his delight is in the Lord’s instruction.” Don’t let the wicked, the sinner, or the scoffer (from v.1) influence the way you think; or, you’ll begin to “delight” in their ways & you’ll lose your happiness! It begins by looking “at” and listening “to” all the stuff the world produces—until you think about it so much you begin to delight in it! Beware, the text says, you’ll find no happiness there!

-What To Do & Not To Do!

So, the genuinely “HAPPY” person does NOT do something; and, DOES do something—the “HAPPY” person does NOT take advice from the wicked; and, DOES delight, instead, in Godly instruction; or, the “Law of the Lord”! The Apostle Paul warned the Church of Rome in this way:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2). That word “conformed”, that he uses, carries the idea of being pressed into a mold— “Don’t let the world ‘press you into it’s mold’ with it’s wicked advice and counsel.” Delight, instead, in God’s instruction so that you’re thinking is transformed or sanctified!

-Put Advice To The Test!

Test the advice, you receive, by comparing it under the lens of God’s Word; so, you can discern what God says about it. You absolutely will not find happiness in the words or the way of the ungodly. Their advice will lead you away from God’s Word; and, away from happiness! True happiness comes to those who delight; or, find PLEASURE in the Word of God & the ways of God! Let me quote John Piper on this psalm:  “Now the point of the psalm is to say that when you experience the Word of God like that – as so delightful and so satisfying that it captures your mind and heart day and night and weans you away from the counsel and path and seat of the world -when you experience the Word like that, you are blessed. You are happy.

-Meditate On That!

Find your delight in the Word of God; and, then meditate on it! That’s what the writer adds in v.2— “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he MEDITATES on it day and night!” Your happiness is contingent on your delight “in” and your meditation “on” the instruction found in God’s Word! That has to be accepted by faith; because, the world’s “advice” says happiness comes by pleasing yourself in whatever physical gratification trips your trigger! In the original language, of the Old Testament Hebrew, that word “meditate” means to speak or to mutter. So, the writer is saying that meditating on God’s Word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the Words of God to yourself all day— “day and night” he says! I grew up on a farm where cows would chew their cud over & over—so, meditate or mull on God’s Word again & again!

 

Choosing Between Joy & Happy!

-Does God Want You To Be Happy?

Would it surprise you if I told you that God is concerned with your happiness? I know of believers who debate over how “spiritual” it is to pursue happiness! “JOY” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with; not, “HAPPINESS” (Galatians 5:22ff).  To them, “joy” sounds more spiritual; and, is based on the eternal! “Happiness” seems like it’s dependent on circumstances; like, it’s fleeting! It comes and goes!

-God, The Contrarian!

But, the psalmist—who was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write Psalms 1—seems to play the contrarian! He starts out, “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” It seems like we don’t need to choose between “joy” and “happiness”! Perhaps both are Biblically permissible when the “object”, of each, is also Biblically permissible! Life, in Christ, offers us BOTH “joy” and “happiness.”

-There’s A Contingency!

But, there is a caveat—genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! And, that’s where this idea—that “happiness” is dependent on circumstances—comes from. But, the psalmist offers a different slant. It’s not so much that happiness is fleeting—that it “comes and goes”—as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! Our text indicates that the more consistent we are in adhering to the psalmist’s “counsel”, the HAPPIER our life will be! That, in fact, only a believer, who is walking consistently with Christ, is even capable of experiencing true “joy” and “happiness.”

-Where Do You Look For Advice!

Look at this:  first, your happiness is contingent on WHERE you get your advice! I think it’s significant that the writer doesn’t say, “Don’t be WICKED; don’t SIN; don’t MOCK.” It seems that the contrast , he wants to draw on, is our receiving advice from one source vs. our receiving advice from another! We’re shaped by the advice we accept; so, take great care, he says, that you’re not getting advice from sinners! That word “advice” is referring to persuasive words or ideas that someone shares with the goal of getting you to go in the direction that they recommend! Or, to change your thinking in such a way that your behavior is altered; and, the very course of your life is modified! So, don’t take the advice of sinners!

-There’s A Progression!

On the basis of the advice you receive & accept, your ACTIONS are affected; and, finally your CHARACTER is changed! So, turn your ears away from the advice of the wicked—whether that’s friends, people, books, music, TV, video games, or websites! Choose wisely who you listen to because your “happiness” depends on it! The writer, of Scripture, is saying that your life will only be “happy” (Or, “blessed” or “fulfilled” some of your translations say!) when you turn a deaf ear to the advice of the wicked! And, who, does he say, are the WICKED? Anyone & everyone on the path of sin! Those who live a lifestyle of disobedience to God’s Word! Those who mock anyone who desires to obey it! Don’t be fooled by them!

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!

 

 

What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!

Daniel: Praying Through Obstacles!

GOING ON VACATION! NEXT POST WILL BE: AUGUST 16

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Life Doesn’t Always Go Right!

The so-called “Health, Wealth & Prosperity Gospel” would have us believe that doing the right things & praying the right way will insure that everything, in life, will go right! That health will follow us! That wealth will follow us; and, prosperity too! But, the Biblical story, of the prophet Daniel, shows us quite the opposite! In fact, the Bible is replete with similar examples  which show that doing the right thing does NOT insure that everything, in life, will go right! In spite of Daniel’s faithfulness, to God’s Word & His commandments, he still had enemies who meant to do him harm (read Daniel chapter 6).  When “…they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy…” (v.4) they conspired to use his faith against him by deceiving King Darius into signing a decree that exposed his ultimate loyalty to God rather than the king!

-Trust God To Deal With Your Enemies!

But, Daniel’s story teaches us to trust God to deal with our enemies! We don’t need to work so hard to defend ourselves! Let God defend us! Daniel’s story also proves that a believer can thrive in an environment that’s hostile to their faith; but, it’s not always going to be comfortable! In our “politically correct” world, we’re tempted every day to compromise our faith! To fudge a little here! To keep our mouth shut there! Like Daniel, if you don’t compromise, you’re going to run into trouble with this unbelieving world sooner or later! So, trust God with your enemies!

-Staying Faithful In A Hostile World!

Daniel has seen this before. He’s a very old man, at this point, in the story; perhaps, more than 80 years old! He had been exiled to Babylon as a teenager; and, Darius is now the 4th king under whom he’s served. So, the “names” may have changed; but, Daniel’s challenge, to remain faithful to God in a hostile world, remains the same!  So, how does he respond when he is informed of his enemies deception? The text says, “…he went into his house…and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (v.10).  See that? Daniel didn’t just turn to prayer when he had exhausted all human attempts to fix his predicament! Prayer was part of the regular rhythm of his life!

-Planned Neglect!

Like clock work, the text of Daniel 6 informs us that Daniel prayed regularly, 3 times a day every day! A noted concert violinist was once asked about the secret of her mastery of the instrument; and, she answered with 2 words—“Planned Neglect! There were many things that used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So, I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret of my success.” Nothing got in the way of Daniel’s prayer time! He scheduled it… to the planned neglect of everything else!