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!

 

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!

 

Daniel: God’s Mercy Has A Limit!

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

-Do Not Test God!

So, how long will God extend mercy, toward the habitual sinner, before He finally breaks out in judgment against him! No one, but God, actually knows! But, Scripture is clear that it’s incredibly dangerous—and stupid—to test God! He does have a limit; and, the Babylonian King Belshazzar discovered it according to the prophet Daniel’s account in chapter 5 of the book named after him! As the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar should have known better! By his grandfather’s own testimony, he knew that God had judged him to live like an insane animal for 7 years until he acknowledged that God was Sovereign over all the affairs of man; and, that all of life’s “stuff” is a GIFT from Him. But, Belshazzar continually turned his back on God until God, in judgment, turned His back on Belshazzar. And, that would be the tragic ending to Belshazzar’s life.

-He Died A Fool!

His was a wasted life! He became a “byword”; or, a moral proverb! He should have known better! But, the words of judgment, “…you…have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this…” haunted him at the end (v.22).  He died a fool! What about you? You need to know that pride invites God’s judgment! You need to know that human wisdom is inadequate! You need to know that God’s patience can run thin! It can be exhausted! You need to know that God’s Word is certain; and, that there’s no escaping God’s judgment!

-You Need An Advocate!

God’s Word says, for certain, that “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  You don’t want to stand, before Him, alone because the deeds you’ve done will never earn you salvation! You need an advocate! You need Jesus to stand beside you! You want His atoning work, on the cross, for your sin to be applied to your account! Only by accepting His Son, Jesus, will God “…vanquish our iniquities; and…cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) He’ll “…remember them no more…” (Isaiah 43:25); and, “…remove them as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12)

-You Are No Longer Ignorant!

I urge you to turn to Jesus! Don’t come to the end of life; and, say, like King Belshazzar, “I should have known better.” It matters not what you’ve done with your life up until now! If you humble yourself before God, He will extend to you His love, mercy and grace! Dedicate the rest of your life to serving God by the power of His Holy Spirit! You’re flesh isn’t enough! You’re physical strength isn’t enough! You need Jesus! You can’t “UNDO” what you’ve “DONE”; but, you can change the course of your life moving forward! We serve the God who makes beauty from ashes! He loves to set the sinner FREE! He redeems and makes all things new; including, your life if you’ll just give it back to Him!

 

Daniel: The Handwriting’s On The Wall!

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

-The King Was Suddenly Sober!

As the 5th chapter—of Daniel’s prophetic book—opens, the Medo-Persian army has surrounded that great city of Babylon. In his pride, the Babylonian King Belshazzar has thrown this huge drinking party, for all his nobles, because it was believed the visiting army would be unable to penetrate the massive walls of the city.  “At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that his hip joints shook and his knees knocked together” (vs. 5-6). King Belshazzar was suddenly sober!

-There Are Always Consequences!

After a failed attempt to gain an explanation, from his “wise men”, the queen mother shows up and encourages the King to seek the prophet Daniel’s counsel.  Now advanced in years, Daniel rehearses the story of Nebuchadnezzar—Belzhazzar’s grandfather—with him; and, concludes with this:  “…you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of your life” (v.23).  Like many, in our own day, Belshazzar seemed to think he was entitled to live his life however he wanted with no consequences! Perhaps he thought God would just wink at his sin! There’s a grave danger in over-focusing on God’s love, mercy & grace! We dare not ignore His justice & judgment! We do so at our own peril!

-He Abused God’s Patience!

We can exhaust God’s immense patience! How did he think this would end for him? Was he so deluded that he thought he could live out his life with no regard for the God who created him; and, get away with it? Apparently so! He abused God’s patience; and, God’s judgment was against him— “This is the writing on the wall,” Daniel said, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.  This is the interpretation of the message: MENE means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. TEKEL means that you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient. PERES means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (v.25-28).  Times up, King Belshazzar! God is stripping you of the kingdom!

-When God Speaks, We Need To Listen!

This whole tragedy was so unnecessary! Belshazzar should have known better! He knew his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar’s “story”! Some 40-50 years earlier, God had revealed—through the Prophet Daniel (ch.2)—that Babylon would be replaced by the Medo-Persian empire—the very army just outside Babylon’s walls!  And, it all happened, just as God said it would! God’s Word is certain! It’s authoritative! If God says it, you can bank on it! Don’t grow weary over the delay of God’s promise that Jesus will come again! “Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff,” Peter warned (2 Peter 3:3), “living according to their own desires, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?” When God speaks, please listen!