For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.—Hebrews 5:13, KJV
Solid food is nourishment by which the capacity of the soul is enlarged. Sooner or later, a newborn baby must go from milk to something solid; if that does not happen, there will be a deformed child. It is the same with the analogy here.
What do I mean when I say solid food is nourishment by which the capacity of the soul is enlarged? The soul’s enlargement will mean simple trust in God, unfeigned love for one another, and the ability to understand what God is pleased to reveal. Now by simple trust in God, I would remind you of 1 John 4:16: “We know and rely on the love God has for us.” That verse has gripped me for years. But it involves simple trust, simply taking seriously that God really does love us. When one really believes it, it changes everything. The ability to digest solid food is the enlargement of the soul, where you become able, simply in a childlike way, to trust in God. Jesus said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Christians need to rediscover this simple trust in God, which is the soul’s enlargement.
I am referring to the ability to perceive God’s will. That has to do with aptitude to receive what God wants to say. It is understanding His Word, and it is knowing His direction for today. It is His Word and His will.
Understanding His Word is simply being able to read the Bible and know what it means, that God speaks to you. Maturity includes seeing His will. By this I mean that you know God so well that you know what He is thinking. It’s the same with my wife: I do not have to tell her or ask her what she thinks; I already know. When you know God, you know His will.
Excerpted from Are You Stone Deaf to the Spirit or Rediscovering God? (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1994, 1999).
The preaching of a sermon is an exhilarating and maddening process. After hours of study and prayer, you have what feels to be a few short moments to deliver eternal truths in contemporary language to your friends who face a world set against everything you are teaching them. Generally, each week, I try to listen to my sermon in order to prayerfully learn how I can more effectively deliver my next message. But I have learned that the review must not become an exercise in public speaking skills. As pastors, we are called to a higher task than to simply speak convincingly. Our work is similar to the men in Nehemiah 8:7. As Ezra read the Law, they moved among the people to help the people to understand the Law’s implications in their lives.
Here are five questions that will help us evaluate our sermons each week.
1. Did it make God the hero? We should be able to identify the pivot point on which the message hangs. It should be God, along with His self-revelation, glory, and redemptive purposes. If we placed people, good character, or even the church as the proverbial hero of the story, then we missed the mark.
2. Was it a clear exposition of the Scriptures? We need to ensure that we are exposing the truth of the text and not using it to make our own points. It is the old “preacher joke,” but too many of us have come up with a great point and then find a passage to preach it. We should be able to clearly hear the heart of a text in our message.
3. Did I allow the wisdom of God to outshine my witty ideas? In other words… Did I get in the way? We can get in the way by forcing points that are made into an acrostic, alliterate, or needlessly rhyme. It is not that we should throw out mnemonics that help people remember the point but they should not become the point. We should be certain that people are struck by the greatness of God and not the cleverness of the preacher.
4. Was there a clear call to make a decision? However you ask people to respond in your worship gatherings, the message should give people a reason to do so. Each time we meet with the text, we will be confronted by God’s holiness and the need for it to be applied to our lives. Each time the Word is proclaimed, it is a blessing to be convicted and comforted by it. We must also direct people how to respond to God through it.
5. Did I apply the truth to myself first? Each time I deliver a sermon, it is the opportunity for God to work over my own life first so that I will be ready to deliver the truth from a place of transformation. If you have not, people will know it and are tempted to discard anything you say. If the sermon had no application for you, then you will be hard pressed to apply it to others.
The more I interact with my cessationist brothers and sisters, the more I see that in many ways, we are passing each other like ships in the night, and it has nothing to do with one side being committed to the Lord and the other not.
Instead, it seems as if we sometimes have fundamentally different ways of looking at the same things—fundamentally different perspectives and, in a sense, fundamentally different “spiritual personalities.”
How can we better understand each other, learn from each other and serve together to glorify Jesus and touch a dying world? I take an entire chapter in my just-released Authentic Fire book to address this very question.
Now, to be perfectly clear, I am absolutely convinced that the Scriptures testify clearly to the ongoing nature of the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, the longest chapter in Authentic Fire is devoted to studying that issue in depth.
At the same time, it is clear to me that both charismatics and cessationists have unique contributions to make to the church and to the world and that there are personality traits unique to each camp.
With this in mind, I propose that we take a few minutes and make a real attempt to understand each other better, putting aside our theological differences and focusing instead on our “spiritual personalities.”
Now, there is no question that one person’s strength is often another person’s weakness, and vice versa. Some people are totally analytical, others totally intuitive. Some people love to confront; others love to comfort. Some are didactic teachers, others motivational leaders. Some people are born to invent, others to research and record patents for inventions; some are born to lead armies, others to care for the elderly—and you had better believe these respective giftings are quite different.
It’s the same thing in terms of our spiritual personalities, and the better we understand each other, the better we can be of help to one another. As Paul wrote in Romans 12, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:4-6, ESV).
One believer is circumspect and sober but can tend toward skepticism; another believer is willing to step out in faith but can tend toward gullibility. Each one needs the other.
Consider the words of Jesus in John 4:24, where He said that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit [or Spirit] and truth.”
Obviously, there is total harmony between spirit (or Spirit) and truth, and it is not a matter of either-or but of both-and. At the same time, Jesus is describing two elements here, spirit (or Spirit) and truth, and on a certain level (and I’m simply using this text here to make a point rather than claiming that this was what Jesus meant), charismatics, who are people of the Spirit, can put more emphasis on spirit/Spirit, whereas cessationists, who are people of the truth, can put more emphasis on truth. Both are equally essential.
Consider also the Lord’s rebuke of the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (NIV). Knowing both God’s Word and God’s power are essential for spiritual soundness and fruitful ministry. Knowing one without the other leads to errors and extremes. Knowing neither is fatal. Jesus emphasized the importance of both.
But it is possible (and all too common) for believers to be so heavily into the Word (in terms of studying the Bible and learning the original languages and getting into proper exegesis and theology) that they lose the vibrancy of their fellowship with the Lord and lack greatly in the empowering of His Spirit (although this ought not be the case, since both biblical study and spiritual passion should go hand in hand).
On the flip side, it is possible (and all too common) for believers to be so heavily into the things of the Spirit (in terms of wanting to see God’s power touch a dying world and cultivating worship and intimacy with God) that they become sloppy in their study of Scripture and doctrinal foundations (although, again, this ought not be the case).
I know that my Scripture-expositing, cessationist brethren sometimes listen aghast to the charismaticeisegetics of some TV preachers, while our Spirit-filled, charismatic brethren look aghast at the power-depleted ministries of some cessationist colleagues.
Why not have both the accurate Word and the power of the Spirit? And can you really have an accurate understanding of the Word without acknowledging the Spirit’s power for our day? And can you really walk in the fullness of the Spirit without being grounded in the Word?
The truth is, as much as there is some“charismatic chaos,” there is also some “Baptist boredom.” One group sometimes falls into fanaticism, the other group into formalism, and both are equally wrong and dangerous (although each group sees the other’s weaknesses as being far more dangerous, tending to exaggerate them as well because they seem so foreign).
Wouldn’t it be great if, through learning from each other and listening to each other, we could produce fire and faithfulness, power and precision, energetic worship and exegetical wisdom? After all, aren’t we commanded to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength?
Just think of what happens when there is holy cross-pollination! To the extent that we have both Word and power, truth and Spirit operating in our lives, it will be life-giving for us and helpful for others.
Today there are numerous ways to have ready access to the Bible. Most people have multiple printed Bibles, and more versions are available on the Internet. We can also access the Bible from our smartphones, digital music players, pads or tablets, and computers (not to mention CDs and DVDs). While the digital revolution has helped multiply copies of God’s Word, there has been an unintended negative impact on an important spiritual discipline related to the Bible: Scripture memorization. Why memorize something that you can call up anytime, anywhere on a digital device?
It was different in the biblical era. Copies of Scripture were extremely rare, especially in the Old Testament. For that reason, it was necessary to memorize the text mostly through listening. And when we hide God’s Word in our mind and heart (Psalm 119:11), we have one-upped the digital age. Whatever you have memorized is available for the Holy Spirit to use at a moment’s notice as a doctrine, a reproof, a correction, teaching, or comfort (2 Timothy 3:16).
Yes, the digital age has many benefits. But it is still up to us to put God’s Word in the one place where it is always available: in our mind.
John says, “In the beginning was the Word.” “Word,” in this case, means “logos,” which means all of God’s ideas, everything he ever spoke. Jesus Christ, our Savior, is actually God’s Word in flesh.
Words have incredible power. Yet, with all of our ideas, everything that we have, everything we celebrate; all of it comes from and through words. Our world is inundated with words. On our radios, computers, TVs we hear people talking, singing, selling things with words. These words say eat me, sleep with me, come visit me, think this way, act that way. Being constantly inundated with words forms our worldviews. Still, we treat words cheaply. We speak often without reflection, without regard for the consequence of what we’re saying. We speak without intention and too often people are hurt.
Instead, we ought to understand that words have the power to create and destroy and should not be thrown around cheaply.
To understand this concept, we must know what is being said about us, but not what people are saying about us on Twitter or Facebook, around the water cooler, or in the classroom. What we need to hear is what God says about us. He says, “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” It is an inner voice of love, the wellspring of life. And from that wellspring, through that same voice of love, we can choose every word that we say to others.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to choose my words wisely. As you have shared your words of love with me through the Holy Bible, may I choose to share your love with others through every word I speak. Amen.
Reflection: Do you choose your words as you speak? When have you withheld words you knew would hurt because of God’s wellspring of love within you?
A “seminary” is a school specializing in theological training especially for those entering vocational ministry. The word seminary, akin to the term for “seed,” comes from the Latin term seminarium, or “plant nursery.” Since the 1580s, this word has described schools that train Christians for ministry. Good seminaries enrich the Church with scholarship and instruction, and they’re important to the advancement of our Christian work.
Though not everyone can attend seminary, every Christian has a seminary between two covers — the Holy Bible. God’s Word is a school that trains us for the work He has planned for us on earth. According to 2 Timothy 3:17, as we invest ourselves in God’s Word, we’re “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We’re not just equipped for good work; we’re equipped for every good work, and we are thoroughly equipped for every good work. We become spiritually productive through the Word of God.
The Bible is God’s Everyone Seminary. Make sure you’re enrolled today by having a personal plan for reading, studying, memorizing, pondering, obeying, and sharing the Bible.
A rotten egg sailed past Buddy Robinson, an old Pentecostal preacher, and struck the deacon standing next to him. As the stench of the egg covered the deacon, he started cussing up a storm.
A second egg caught Brother Robinson right in the middle of his forehead, and as it trickled down his face, he began shouting and dancing all over the platform.
The deacon said, “I don’t understand it. When I was hit with the egg, I went to cussing; but when that rotten egg hit you, you went to praising.”
Brother Robinson, who stuttered like Moses, gave his reply: “You already had the c-c-c-cuss in you. When that egg hit you, it just knocked the c-c-c-cuss out of you. But when I got hit with a rotten egg, I had p-p-p-praise in me, and it just knocked the p-p-p-praise right out of me.”
Whatever is in you will come out of you in a time of stress, trial, or crisis. Deposit the Word in your heart that you will not sin against God (Psalm 119:11).
Jesus, purify and cleanse me. With Your baptism
of fire, burn away all the chaff in my life. Amen.