Tag Archives: Bible study

How to Prosper, Spirtually

I was recently confronted with the question: “How does one prosper spiritually?”  Another way of putting it would be to ask: “What is the key to spiritual growth?”

I believe the first Psalm has some insight into this question.  The book of Psalms has often been referred to as Israel’s hymnbook.  It contains songs- or poems, teaching on what it means to praise God and know God.  The emotions brought forth cover the spectrum of the human experience. When I was going through a dark time in my life, a pastor told me: “Go home and read the psalms.  You’ll know that David and others identified with you.”

The ESV Study Bible states: “The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (covenant instructions).  But its sustained contrast the psalm reminds readers that in the end there are really only two ways to live.”

Notice the agrarian illustration.  “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”  – Psalm 1:1-3

First off, to prosper spiritually, means to be blessed by God.  “Blessed is the man… (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The Hebrew denotes happiness, prosperity. It reminds us of the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”  You remember those.  “Blessed are the peacemakers… .”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit… .”  “Blessed are the pure in heart… . ”  One commentator states: “What is given to us in this first Psalm is contrasting sources of values.  “The truly happy person guides his life by God’s instruction rather than by the advice of those who reject that instruction.”[1]  The blessed man or woman is favored by God because of the priority in their life to honor God with their ethical and spiritual decisions.

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord?  Might we substitute all of God’s word, the Bible for “the law of the Lord”?  Thus, we must participate in the following:

  • To read it; to actually know what it says. To study it.  Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17); we need to know the truth, before it can set us free.  It is an oxymoron to be a Christian and not interested in what the Bible says and teaches.
  • To mull it over in your mind; to memorize it.  Psalm 119 is an elaboration of Psalm 1.  “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  This is the acquisition of the ability to call it to mind when you need it.  I know a woman who writes a central verse or thought from her devotions down and she glances at it throughout the day.  Other believers post verses in their car on the dash or on the refrigerator, to be continually reminded of God’s promises and precepts, that the word might become part of us.
  • To obey it, apply it; put it into practice.  Scripture must rule your mind, if you are to prosper spiritually.  You must be willing to submit yourself to God’s way of living, instead of living your own way!  Where are you getting your theology?  From the Internet, Facebook, Dr. Phil or Oprah?  Or do you sit with the Bible open and pray: “Lord, teach me.  Show me.  Whatever you say, I will do.”

Secondly, spiritual death is revealed in how one believes and lives.   Verse one says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….” Who are the wicked, sinners, or scoffers?  By the context, it is certainly those that give no mind to God, his presence, his instruction, his love or His wrath.  With these there is no fear of God.  Our country has suffered for a long time from no fear of God.

Today, our young people are falling prey to the idea that truth is relative.  In 2005, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager’s life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

  • A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD’s appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the “cool parent” teenagers adore.

“God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process,” Smith and Denton write.  That’s one of the things missing today is a healthy fear of God.  Many live as if there is no God.  Lawlessness abounds.

In contrast, the blessed person recovers a healthy fear of God.  The awesomeness of the Lord affects how I think and how I live; my understanding of sin and my remorse over it.

One’s spiritual health must include a healthy reverence for the God of Scripture.  In contrast to our society, the Israelites participating in the exodus in 1500 B.C. were faced with an awesome scene on Mount Sinai: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)

But without healthy reverence for God, there is spiritual death.  There is no middle ground; there is no state of limbo.  You can tell a lot about a tree or bush by the health of its leaves; whether it is getting enough rain; enough sun or is subject to bugs or disease.  The tree described in Psalm 1 is one that has taken root by a source of water.  Its leaves are robust.  Its fruit is plentiful.  Oh that we would have more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

How do we prosper spiritually?  Caspar Schwenckfeld likened the spiritual life to the “School of Christ.”  Schwenckfeld explained Christian growth in these terms:

“The Christian also goes to school, drawn by the Spirit of God into the school of Christ, the Teacher of divine mysteries. Although God instructs His pupils, the Christians, inwardly in the Spirit, He has also appointed preachers and teachers to interpret Scripture and to instruct the outer man, to direct him to God and to the crucified Christ; to teach him the malice of sin through the outward worship-service, teaching, preaching, reading, studying, admonition and ceremony.”[2]

This “school” of the Christian faith also has a goal in mind: that we as Jesus’ followers would be more Christlike in love, belief and ethics, bringing glory to God.  That’s why Peter ends with the phrase: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever (2 Peter 3:18)!”  The danger is stopping our progress.  Someone once said: “Christian growth is like riding a bicycle.  Once you stop, you fall off!”

The late Dr. Jack Rothenberger taught:

“The focus of Schwenckfeld’s life and thought was on the personal experience of the living Christ.  For him, God alone is the teacher; He touches the inner life of the seeker by granting experiential knowledge of Christ (what Schwenckfeld called, ‘Erkenntnis Christi.’)   Which defines the maturing awareness on the part of a believer that he or she is empowered daily by Christ to live for God and others.”[3]

Some of you may be familiar with the Navigators’ “Wheel of Christian Growth.”  Christ is at the center of the wheel and thus, at the center of our lives.  The spokes consist of Witnessing, Prayer, Study of the Word and Fellowship.  Each Christian is to be active in the following:

Prayer: This is simply conversing with God.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty

things that you do not know.”  We need time alone with God.  Instead of looking at it as a duty, you must recover the sense that your spiritual life depends on it. If Jesus deemed it necessary to pray alone and often, we must place a high priority on it as well.  So our spiritual health depends on us meeting with the Lord. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we!?  His habit was to get up while it was still dark and pray with God. He would often retreat to a lonely place and pray. He would give his disciples well needed rest after serving the crowds whether it be feeding or healing.  Before He was arrested, what was He doing?  Praying!

Pastor Kevin DeYoung states:

“This is why prayer is so essential for the Christian.  The simple act of getting on our knees (or faces or feet or whatever) for five or fifty minutes every day is the surest sign of our humility and dependence on God.  There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness- time management, busyness, lack of concentration- but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side.  We do not trust in God alone.  Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help.”[4]   Wow!  So that’s why prayerlessness is sin!

Studying Scripture:  Psalm 119:104: “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Paul told us in Romans 12: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Our minds must engage the study of Scripture so that our spirit can be transformed from grace to grace.

Witnessing:  Christians have the best news in the world! 1 Peter 3:15: “… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… .”  Sometimes we underestimate the power of our testimony, which is really a testimony of God working in our lives.  The Lord has given you a world to reach.  We must not be timid about sharing Jesus, the Name which is above every name.  It is not witnessing if you don’t mention Jesus’ name.

Fellowship:  “No man is an island.”  We need each other.  Hebrews 10:24: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Fellowship is obtained through attending worship, Sunday School, small groups & activities.  Open your life to give and receive love.

We must seek the fellowship of other Christians; you must be in His word and prayer on a regular basis; we must actively witness to and serve others;  If we are to prosper spiritually!  And most of all, the Holy Spirit must take up residence in our lives, which happens to every person when they trust in Christ.

God has wired us so that we get something out of something what we put into it.  Very little happens without effort and initiative.  Other things require us to be active in order to stay alive. I can sit here and say: “I’m going to boycott air,” and then try to hold my breath.  But after about a minute, I’ll be gasping for it.  I can try to boycott oxygen for a minute and a half, but sooner or later I’m a take a deep breath and give up my protest.

There is only so much of us to go around. Until we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Do you remember the illustration of the oxygen mask on the airplane? Before you take off the stewardess informs you that you must first put yours on before you put your child’s on. So it is with our own usefulness and blessing to others. We need to fuel up with God before we can be a blessing to others.

[1] ESV Study Bible.

[2] Selina G. Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: A Course of Study, “A Christian,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1964), 67.

[3] See Dr. Jack Rothenberger’s article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1989/issue21/2124.html.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot, (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 232.

The Process of Spiritual Growth

The following message is based on 1 Peter 2:1-10, on the subject of the importance of Bible study and prayer. It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on January 22, 2012.

Someone remarked at the last Church Council meeting that the daffodils on our grounds were beginning to pop up. What causes that? What determines that leaves should bud? Why do we have to trim our hedges from time to time? Each is an example of the mysterious process of growth. From a scientific standpoint, we know that photosynthesis is involved, sunlight and water being necessary for plants to grow. But God is the one who brings these things about. The same can be said for spiritual growth. How does this happen?

Today’s topic is based on the second point of our mission statement. We long to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer. This latter point is based upon Peter’s words in his first letter, chapter two, verse one: “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” By Peter’s words, we are reminded that we are dependent upon God for spiritual nourishment and growth. He has provided the sustenance in His word, the Bible. As a result, He has provides the growth through His Holy Spirit.

THE BIBLE TRANSFORMS US.
What do we say about the Bible as a church? In our core values, we say that we are committed to honoring the written Word of God, the ultimate authority in our individual lives and in the life of Central Schwenkfelder Church. In our mission, we are called to love God. Jesus responded with a Bible study, of sorts, when asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:37-38). Part of loving God is loving His special revelation given to us in Holy Scriptures. And in our vision, we understand that Scripture and prayer are the means by which we develop spiritually.

At present, there are many opportunities to study the Scripture to facilitate your spiritual growth. There a host of small groups and Sunday School classes which are designed to do this. One in particular is the Bible for Life curriculum being studied downstairs in the Blue Lounge. I encourage you to check it out.

How does this spiritual growth take place? It is a mystery, but also natural. How does a baby grow, having been fed by his mother? It is through his longing and drinking. One of the problems is that we don’t long for God’s word. We are distracted by other things. Or we’re just plain lazy. To battle his lazy tendencies, Robert Rogers grew up with the attitude: “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed.” The reason for this dependence is that the Scripture is a living book; it produces life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 states: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” There is no other book like it.

What transforms us? Transforming are the people, places and things which act upon us, influencing us, empowering us, motivating us, redirecting our behaviors. God works on the heart, through the head, and He uses His written word to do so, in tandem with the Holy Spirit. As a result, we are: “…transformed by the renewing of our mind” as Romans 12:1 says. Recently, I watched Rocky II with my sons. I forgot the valuable lessons of hard work, hope and love that spread throughout that motion picture, not to mention all the scenery from Philadelphia! In it, Rocky was dependent upon Mickey, his trainer; Paulie, his brother-in-law and most of all, his loving wife Adrian. At a poignant time in the movie, when her life was at risk, it was not until she woke from her coma and said: “There’s just one thing: “Win!” That statement brought life to Rocky Balboa and propelled him to beat the champion, Apollo Creed.

Why is it so critical that we study the Bible as Christians? This is because believers in Jesus have always been a people by the book. It is only through exposing ourselves to the truth of God, that we can be sanctified, set apart for God’s service. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17: “Sanctify them according to the truth; Thy word is truth.” It is important to remember that although God used humans in the process, the Scripture itself is not a human book. Its ultimate author is God. Speaking in reference to the prophetical literature of the Old Testament, 2 Peter 1:20 states: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Scripture is not a collection of man’s opinions. If that were the case, it is outdated. But the word of God is eternal; there are everlasting truths in its pages. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of nearby Westminster Seminary said: “Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God.” The Bible is a book of life. The moment that you deny its authenticity or discredit its truth, you relinquish its ability to develop you spiritually. If you do not receive the Bible as the means of your spiritual growth, then what do you? What can compare to it? The Bible transforms us. Next …

PRAYER FORMS US.
Prayer must be a priority for us. It was said that George Washington would make it his habit of retiring to his quarters each night at a specific time, regardless if there was company in the room, to keep his appointment with God. Jesus’ practice was to get alone with God and pray, often upon the Mount of Olives. Mark 1:35 says: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” The prophet Daniel knelt in prayer three times a day to petition God on behalf of His people. Daniel 9 is one of those prayers recorded for us.

When you think about it, prayer and Scripture study is a two way communication with God. He speaks to us in Scripture; we speak to Him in prayer. Or, it can be compared to breathing: inhaling God’s truth, exhaling our response/concerns. But why do we not get it until something bad happens? How do you regard the Bible? How do you use it? What is your practice of prayer? I’m reminded that however busy I become, all roads lead back to these two simple, yet powerful things. I need that time with God if I am going to succeed as a pastor. I must have that time with the lord if I am going to get all the things done that I am suppressed. Prayer centers me; keeps my priorities in line and calms my spirit so that I can be all that God wants me to be. There is an old hymn that states: Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Dr. Tim used to say: “Prayer is the machine room of the church.” We accomplish very little as individuals Christians or as a congregation, without prayer.

We must come to God with an attitude of expectation; to know that He is a God who answers prayer. If we don’t believe that, then why waste the time with believing God in the first place? There is the story told by Craig Groeschel: “A pastor once asked his church to pray that God would shut down a neighborhood bar. The whole church gathered for an evening prayer meeting, pleading with God to rid the neighborhood of the evils of this bar. A few weeks later, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

Having heard about the church’s prayer crusade, the bar owner promptly sued the church. When the court date finally arrived, the bar owner passionately argued that God stuck his bar with lightning because of the church members’ prayers. The pastor backtracked, brushing off the accusations. He admitted the church prayed, but he also affirmed that no one in his congregation really expected anything to happen.

The judge leaned back in his chair, a mix of amusement and perplexity on his face. Finally he spoke: “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Right in front of me is a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and a pastor who doesn’t.” Sometimes we are like the pastor. We say that we pray, we pray, but there is not expectation of God doing something as a result. Yet, God makes the promise through the prophet Jeremiah in 33:3 of the book that bears his name: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

We want to be a different church, for ourselves and others. Today, we have welcomed Betty, Marge and Bill into our fold. They have now become one of us. I trust that we have their confidence as a church that desires: “…to become fully mature disciples of Christ by glorifying God individually and together as a church; and by growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer.” We are not a church that spins its wheels. Rather, we want to go places and do great things for God, our Savior.