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.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word application as “the act of putting to a special use or purpose.”
Every day I read the Bible. Every day I pray. But not every day do I act like a Christian. Why?
It’s because we forget to become doers of the Word. The Bible is very clear that if you and I don’t become doers of the Word, we are like the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what we look like after we walk away.
James 1:22-25 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
All the knowledge of the Bible and all the sermons in the world will not make you a good Christian unless you actually apply what you know and what you hear to your walk. For example: Love your neighbor. If you don’t know or get to know you neighbor, how can you love them?
Another example: The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us as we have forgiven our debtors.” Is that a prayer we really want to pray? Lord, forgive just like those I forgive? Would God actually forgive you if that were the case? Have you really forgiven others? If not, watch out what you pray for.
Are you and I really applying the words of God to our life? Or are we just going through the motions? The dictionary says application means “the act of putting to a special use or purpose.” For what special use are you using God’s Word? Is it for knowledge? That’s not too special.
God wants us to share His Word. He wants us to apply what we learn and hear to our lives, our families’ lives and to each person we come in contact with.
So I ask you: Are you a forgetful hearer or an effectual doer of God’s Word? There is a difference.
The problem of belief in God has never been solely to convince the conscious mind. If it were, He would need only to raise up brilliant debaters and apologists rather than pastors and churches that nurture. Paul wrote, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10, KJV).
It is easy to confuse deep, heartfelt conviction with mere intellectual assent and to think salvation is thereby accomplished. I do not mean to say that anyone’s conversion experience is thereby invalid, but that it did not finish the process. We have been too easily convinced of completion.
When belief in the heart, to whatever degree, opens the floodgates of understanding to the mind and conviction to the spirit, and we respond in the sinner’s prayer to invite Jesus in, we are redeemed and justified. Our sins are washed away in the blood of the Lamb and our destinies are changed from hell to heaven. We are once and for all time fully saved.
But the experience of conversion is not all there is to being saved. Salvation has a larger meaning than justification, redemption, being born anew, going to heaven or all these put together.
Redemption, justification, being born anew are entrances to the process of growing into salvation (1 Pet. 2). Going to heaven is the end product. All of what happens in between, the process ofsanctification and transformation, is the major part of salvation, which means “to become whole, to be healed.”
When we ask, “Have you been saved, brother?” we mean redeemed, justified, born anew and going to heaven. Well and good. But perhaps the question is confusing. If we mean, “Has the Lord gotten hold of you, paid the price, and set your face toward heaven?” every born-anew Christian ought to answer with an unqualified, “Yes, I’m saved, and I’m going to heaven.”
But concerning the process in this life of being saved, none ought ever to reply that it is all done. Each one should answer, “I’m saved, and I’m being saved every day,” because “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14, NASB).
Although every believer is in process, he knows by faith that positionally he has already been made perfect and is already being raised up to sit with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Whatever further conversions of the heart we explore ought never to be taken to imply that our first conversion was invalid or insufficient.
On the other hand, no matter how dramatic or conclusive that conversion was, we run the risk of crippling our abundant life the moment we build a tabernacle as though it once and for all finished the process it, in fact, only began. The heart needs to be transformed anew every day, or we fail to grow in Jesus. Indeed, that is our primary definition of growth in Christ—further and further death and rebirth through continuing inner conversion.
Continual conversion of a believer’s heart moves the heart from unbelief to belief and repentance. This happens as the light of God’s Word reaches into the dark, hidden recesses of the heart, and begins to prepare it to produce good fruit (Matt. 13:3-8).
Historically, in America, sanctification has come to mean striving to live up to the law on the base of a supposedly transformed character. That struggle all too often has led to judgmentalism because tragically, the transformation had never been complete.
True, we are washed clean at the moment of conversion, and our consciences sprinkled (Heb. 9:14). But not all the character has been transformed at that moment.
Jesus is not yet that firmly seated as Lord in the inner depths of many Christians. It must hurt the Lord deeply that in churches considered most sound, sin so often still runs rampant, even among the leaders. Or where obvious sin has not reared its head, so little fruit of the Spirit is seen.
In such churches, conversion may be complete in the conscious mind, but the heart remains almost untouched.
The Lord must be allowed to fully occupy each believer’s heart. This will be accomplished through the weapon of the Word of God being spoken to one another through preaching of the Word, the ministry of small groups, and through diligent, intercessory prayer for and with each other. As the Word touches the places of unbelief in our hearts, we will arise in conversion to take up the battle cry against the flesh and make it our joy to plunge to inner death and rebirth.
Purity of Heart
Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (KJV). Mark again those words, “pure in heart.” Jesus was saying that those whose hearts are purified come to understand and embrace God for who He actually is.
The inference is that because our hearts are not pure, we impute to God motives and ways that are not His. We do not see God, but only our projection of Him.
The Scripture teaches, “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:19-21, NASB).
Here we see that the impurity is hate. Our hatred of fellow human beings colors what we see of God—or prevents it altogether.
This is one of the primary facts that necessitates continual conversion of the heart. Our hidden andforgotten judgments, especially against our fathers and mothers, prevent us from seeing God as He is.
“He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness,” wrote Solomon (Prov. 20:20). Our judgments made against our parents in childhood, usually long forgotten, have darkened our spiritual eyes. We do not see ourselves, others, life or God accurately.
Many times people have come to us saying: “Don’t talk to me about a loving God. Why doesn’t He stop all the wars, or at least prevent some of the bestial things men do to men, sometimes in the very name of religion? Or doesn’t He care?” We have all heard statements like that.
Being prayer ministers, Paula and I never try to defend God. We avoid theological debates. We know the answer is not a mental one but a matter of an impure heart. We merely ask, “What was your father like?”
Invariably we uncover a history similar to what the person has imputed to God—cruelty, insensitivity, desertion, criticism and so forth. No matter what the mind may learn in Sunday school of a gentle and loving God who “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), the heart has been scarred and shaped by reactions to our earthly fathers.
As a result, we often project cruelty, insensitivity, desertion, criticism and other negative factors onto our understanding of who God is. Our minds may declare His goodness, but our behaviors reveal what the heart really thinks: “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, NKJV). Until we are able to forgive our natural fathers for the hurts they may have caused in our hearts, and repent for the judgments we have formed against them, we will not be able to truly see God as gentle, kind and lovingly present in our lives.
Repentance Fosters Healing
I (John) had a gentle, kind father who was a traveling salesman and gone much of the time. During the summer of 1979, I found myself puzzling over why thoughts of unbelief so often trooped through my mind.
In airports or while driving on busy freeways, I would find myself thinking, How can God really be concerned about every detail of all these people’s lives? Or, How can He actually know every hair that falls from every one of these teeming millions of heads? (See Matthew 10:30.)
My mind insisted, “This is purely a logical matter. After all, that’s a reasonable question to ask.” But my spirit was not at rest.
Finally I thought to ask the Lord. He instantly replied, “Your father had little time to notice what you were doing.” That revealed my inner world of judgments. I had judged, “Dad wouldn’t see, compliment, affirm or care.”
Nevermind that he did, in fact, do those things when he was home. My bitter root grew because he wasn’t always there. So, of course, God wouldn’t be there for me. And I worked so hard for Him!
Those thoughts plagued my mind most especially whenever Paula and I were busy serving the Lord. The little boy had been hurt because he worked so hard and received so little notice for it, and the grown-up subconsciously expected God to treat him like that, too.
Following the revelation, repentance was easy and joyous. I have never since been bothered by such nagging doubts. Now I do not merely have belief, but surety of knowing and feeling that my Father sees and approves of my service to Him. Now I have abiding fellowship with Him, in heart as well as spirit (1 John 1:3).
How many of us have come to our parents for something, and they said, “We’ll see,” and then forgot about it? Or our parents made a promise to buy us something, but either it never arrived or came so late that the joy of it was gone. Covertly, that colored our faith in God.
What kind of anger did we push down and forget, because we thought, It’s not good to be angry with Dad and Mom. What kind of resentful judgments did our hearts cherish and our minds forget?.
During her childhood, Dara saw enough pain and abuse to last a lifetime. In response, she built a protective wall around her heart. But “The Wall” kept out the love and acceptance she so desperately needed. When Dara turned to God and began to read his Word, her wall began to crumble as God’s unfailing love tumbled in.
Dara’s true story is one of many uniquely featured testimonies from you, the members and visitors of this site. Each story reveals a life transformed by Christian faith. If your relationship with God has made a significant difference in your life, we would like to hear about it. Submit your testimony by filling out this Submission Form. To receive weekly messages of hope and encouragement from real-life stories of changed lives, sign up for eTestimonies.
Watching my mother be abused emotionally by my father to a point which eventually brought her to a near-death suicide attempt, led me to internalize my feelings. I put them behind “The Wall” I had built around my heart. My father was and still is, the angriest, most controlling and domineering individual I’ve ever known. I literally felt my mother’s pain, yet I attempted to shut myself off from it by physically plugging my ears and running from any and all confrontation.
I became a person who always wanted to please others; to be the best at everything I attempted. I simply refused to pursue anything unless I was reasonably certain I could obtain perfection. So as you might surmise, my endeavors became very limited. To receive love and acceptance, I felt I had to be “doing something” to obtain it.
Internalizing My Pain
During my childhood I was sexually abused by the son of a family friend. My father excused it away saying, “Boys will be boys.” This caused me to further internalize my pain. I came to the realization that voicing it did not bring resolution, nor did it bring love and approval. Because of “The Wall,” I waited years to share the abuse and my subsequent pain with anyone.
I have known God since I was a child through the faithful example of my mother. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at age 12 and have since had a strong personal relationship with Him. Yet I resisted letting even Him into the depths of my heart. “The Wall” I had built by that time was thickly layered and nearly impossible to penetrate.
I had a fear of letting my feelings be seen, so although I never stopped talking to the Lord every day, I continued to keep Him and everyone else on the outside of “The Wall.” I know within my heart that the Lord was watching and waiting for me to turn to Him and lay everything at His feet. Yet, even still I could not break through “The Wall” I had erected around my heart.
Finally, almost 4 years ago, after losing two strong spiritual examples, my mother and my mother-in-law, who both passed away at relatively young ages, and after moving 600 miles from anyone I knew, and after having repeated thoughts of suicide, I turned to God, somewhat as a last alternative.
Reading the Word of God
I began to read the Word of God daily and allow the Lord to speak to me through it. I could not believe how relevant it was to what I was going through in my life. I began to devour the Word, as Matthew 4:4 says, “…It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (NIV)
I began to keep a journal and that allowed “The Wall” around my heart to begin to crumble. The Lord was faithful everyday to speak to me and to reassure me of his unfailing love and affirmation. He released His purpose in my life and I began without reservation to live to please him, and not everyone else.
The Lord became the “Counselor” I so desperately needed and, believe it or not, I was anxious to go to therapy! He became my comforter, my refuge and my source of strength in every circumstance. I came to the revelation that I didn’t have to “do things” to obtain his unconditional love and acceptance.
Now I turn to the Lord, most of the time, without hesitation. I open his Word daily and he is faithful to speak to me no matter the time or situation. I prayerfully seek his guidance in all my decisions. My life is definitely not a bed of roses, but I am able to handle all adversity by praying, reading God’s Word and journaling. I no longer allow my feelings to be put behind “The Wall.”
Just as the wall around Jericho came tumbling down, so did “The Wall” around my heart. I now exist to fulfill this verse of Scripture:
2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.(NIV)