Got Milk?

Got Milk?

I Peter 2:1-3 – Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

Understanding a few key words in these verses makes a huge difference in extracting what Peter, by the Holy Spirit, was trying to say. First consider the word “desire” in verse two. It means to long for something with all one’s being. Peter’s admonition: “This is something you’ve got to have!”

And what is this very important commodity? “The pure milk of the word.” In using the words “pure milk,” Peter is emphasizing uncontaminated, undiluted, fundamental truth! Make sure the teaching you receive is pure and nourishing. And don’t read God’s Word with preconceived notions. Seek truth.

This brings us to the last phrase in verse two, “that you may grow thereby.” The purpose of reading, studying and even meditating in our Bibles is not merely to learn more but to grow, i.e. to become more mature in our faith.

In our discussion groups we have explored the difference between knowing something intellectually and actually experiencing it. Knowing about something or having collected data on a subject doesn’t transform our lives. Transformation is in the growth process and requires more than information. Truth must be applied to our lives to elicit real change.

Spiritually speaking, one doesn’t become mature based merely on how long it has been since he first accepted Jesus into his life. You could have been born again thirty years ago and be a spiritual kindergartner. Conversely, you might have come into the Kingdom a short time ago and yet show huge signs of growth.

Here’s my point: be sure that you never stop growing (spiritually)! My title here makes reference to the TV commercial, “Got Milk?” The truth is that we have milk – at least we have access to it. There’s no reason for any of us to be without a Bible. We give them away free at church. Yet again, it’s not just owning a Bible … or even reading it. Sorry to say but some Christians read their Bibles daily and aren’t growing a lick!

Our attitude toward God’s Word is one key. King David wrote a psalm (the longest chapter in our Bibles) just to express his enthusiasm over God’s Word. With him, reading Old Testament scrolls was not something he was obligated to do. He felt privileged to peruse the laws and commandments. Is Bible reading a chore or a joy for you? It makes a difference!

Another key is getting Bible truths written in our hearts. Intellectual “head knowledge” won’t change your life. Whatever is written on our hearts sets the boundaries of our lives. [Proverbs 4:23] Head knowledge might impress some, but biblical principles etched into the heart create victorious lives.

As I said, David understood these principles. In Psalm 119:11 he said, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You!”

The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament agrees. “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 [AMP]

So, … “Got Milk?”

Are You Growing Spiritually?

Ephesians 4:14-16 [New Living Translation] Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Someone once said that anything living continues to grow. Dead things have ceased from growth. This is true both naturally and spiritually. But there also is a glaring difference: natural growth happens spontaneously while spiritual growth requires attention.

Recently I read some statistics acquired from a national survey of churches. With over 250,000 respondents, this survey carries a lot of weight. It seems that, in measuring spiritual growth, some of the indicators were quite surprising. In the churches surveyed, one out of every four regular attendees was not growing spiritually or even interested in growth. Apparently they just enjoyed fellowship with Christians. Also it was discovered that, for those who are relatively young in the Lord, involvement in lots of church activities helped the growth process. Conversely, for those older in the Lord, these activities didn’t carry the same punch. [I guess it’s not just about how busy we are!]

There was one true indicator of spiritual growth according the book I’ve been reading. Let me give you their words:

If all churches could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice is clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible – specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives. The numbers say most churches are missing the mark – because only one out of five congregants reflects on scripture every day. [Move by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson]

When considering all the different aspects of spiritual growth it’s interesting that reflecting on scripture proves to be the most potent. I can’t say that I’m really surprised though. In rebuking Satan Jesus declared, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” [Matthew 4:4] Clearly this means that it is the Word that sustains life. In Mark chapter four we find the parable of the sower, a parable that Jesus says is a key to understanding all parables. In explaining this parable, Jesus clearly states the value of the scriptures: “The sower sows the Word.” [4:14] The word of God, the Bible, the holy scriptures – by whatever title we refer to it, is the seed. It is the catalyst for growth.

The apostle Peter spoke of the Bible in this manner: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” [I Peter 2:1-3] It is the Word that provides inner strength and growth.

The apostle Paul declares: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17] Faith is a vital necessity to us as Christians. Add to that the quote from the writer of Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” [11:6] In fact, I would say that any growth we might attain without the Word of God may turn out to be growth that is detrimental to our spiritual health.

No, readers, spiritual growth is not automatic. If you’re not interested in this growth it’s not going to overtake you anyway. As a pastor I can’t pray spiritual growth on my church people in spite of themselves. Intercessory prayer makes God available, but we are each individually responsible for our own lives.

We should be asking ourselves, “Am I growing in Christ as I should? Is my relationship with Him deeper and richer now than last year? …last month? …last week? …yesterday? No one is spiritually more mature just because they’ve been saved for a long time. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. As has been said in the past, Christians have to make some effort just to stay even. We’re going uphill – against the stream. We have to keep peddling the bike or paddling the canoe if we don’t want to fall back. [See Hebrews 10:35-39]

How important is growth to you? You’re the only one who can answer that question.

Handling Criticism part 1

At our church we’ve been focusing a lot of our attention on relationships. The reason for this is that we believe our job description as Christians is to “makes disciples” [See Matthew 28:19]. The most productive way of making disciples or followers of Jesus is by way of relationships. Few people, if any, will allow you to try to persuade them to become Christians outside of having an ongoing, friendly relationship with them.

Relationships are like bridges. They come in all kinds of sizes and strengths. The bigger and stronger the bridge, the more you can drive over it. When a relationship (bridge) is being built with a new acquaintance, it must be built big enough and strong enough so that it can handle the “traffic” of discussions about spiritual things. In other words, I may be able to talk about trivial things like the weather with a person I hardly know. But if I want to ask a question like, “Do you believe in life after death?” I can’t expect much of an open dialog with someone I just met. It does happen once in a blue moon, but most of the time this new acquaintance is repelled and thinking, “Who are you to be asking me something like that?!?”

This brings me to my subject – criticism. Good, strong relationships can handle criticism. Can yours?

Some quotes might help us get started. I checked the world-wide web and, sure enough, there’s a lot of info out there. Here are some famous people quoted:

“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” Abraham Lincoln

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Winston Churchill

“If it’s very painful for you to criticize your friends – you’re safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that’s the time to hold your tongue.” Alice Miller

 Not surprisingly the Bible also has much to say about criticism. Here’s a small sample:

Proverbs 15:31, 32 [NLB] – “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. 32 If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.”

Matthew 7:1-5 [NLB] – “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. 2 For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged. 3 And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

The first thing that became clear to me from scripture was that, while constructive criticism can be a good thing, judgment is not. I did a little word study here. To judge is used of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others. The word “criticism” is not used in the New Testament. I think the concept is covered in the word “convict” or “conviction”. It is used in John 16:8 as a ministry of the Holy Spirit, so it must be something good. Many times it’s translated “rebuke”. It is defined as to bring to the light, to expose, correct; to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation.

Here’s an example of constructive criticism from a biblical perspective:

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. 25 They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the Devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.” II Timothy 2:23-26 [NLB]

I see a difference in attitude in constructive criticism over judgment. In this scripture God’s servant is patient and kind, not quarrelsome or argumentative. His words of correction are given only for the purpose of helping this poor soul caught in a devilish trap, not for any self promotion or such.

Here’s another passage that gives insight into helpful criticism:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody.” Galatians 6:1-3 [NLB]

Notice again that the motive is to aid this person caught in sin. There’s no room here for pride or kicking a wounded soul while they’re down. This is exposing the problem, in love, and extending a helping hand of escape.

If criticism can be this loving and powerful – and it can – we’re going to need to take a closer look at it. We need to know what to receive and what to reject. Plus we’ll need to understand how to give criticism in a way that it can be received.

So, follow along with me if you’re able and we’ll dissect this important truth.

Are You Sluggish?

Heb. 5:11 [NLB] – “There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand.” [NKJV] – “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”

Heb. 6:11, 12 [NLB] – “Our great desire is that you will keep right on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. 12 Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and patience.”

[NKJV] – “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

[LB] – “become bored with being a Christian nor become spiritually dull and indifferent.”

If you know me, you know that words are important to me. When the Holy Spirit thrust me into “full-time ministry” thirty-two years ago, I didn’t have a lot working for me. I’m certainly not very handsome or charismatic. I had some Bible training and opportunities to serve under other ministries, but I’m not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. I wasn’t well known or popular. I had no backing from prominent ministers. What I did have was a message. The basis of that message was the integrity of the Word of God. God’s Word could be counted on. Trusting God is the same as trusting His Word. I adhered to the adage, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!”

Therefore most of my study time over the years has been in “word studies”. I’ve been taught that the Bible is good, even in a surface reading. But if you want the good stuff, the stuff that will turn lives around, you have to dig deep! Great reference books, like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Vine’s Greek/English Dictionary make it possible for even someone like me to dig down to the roots of the words of The Word and find the gold.

In studying through Hebrews 5 & 6, I discovered that the same Greek word is used in each chapter, although it is translated differently. Heb. 5:11 has the phrase “dull of hearing”. Hebrews 6:12 contains the phrase, “don’t become sluggish”. I discovered that “dull” and “sluggish” are a translation of the same Greek word NOTHROS. As you can see from the different translations, it can be defined by words like bored, indifferent, hard of hearing, lazy, etc.

The dictionary defines “sluggish” as indisposed to action or exertion; lazy; indolent; not functioning with full vigor; slow to act or respond; slow or slow-moving. None of these are qualities that should adorn Christian character. Being sluggish won’t help us accomplish our assignment: as we go through the world around us, we’re to make disciples to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The writer of Hebrews links his reader’s sluggishness first to their unwillingness to listen. They’re not receiving needed information because they’re not hearing what God is saying.

“What is God saying?” you ask. Before & above anything else, God is speaking His Word– the Bible! Everything begins there. Yes, God speaks in other ways, but anything you think you’ve heard from God can only be verified by laying it out against the Bible. In other words, if something you think you’ve heard from God doesn’t line up to the principles of the Bible, it’s not from God.

In chapter 6 the author identifies a lack of diligence as a cause of sluggishness. Think about it– you can’t be diligent and sluggish at the same time! In Romans, Paul also promoted diligence. One modern translation renders it as “enthusiasm”. The Kingdom of God can certainly use a lot more enthusiasm from us.

The author also strongly suggests that imitating the faith and patience of others can arrest the sluggishness out of our lives. Abraham received Isaac through faith and patience. Faith & patience are not sluggish. If we are truly operating by faith we’ve become persuaded that God’s Word is true and we’re about making adjustments to keep our thoughts, words and actions aligned to it everyday. Patient Christians operate in consistency.

So, don’t become sluggish! Fight against it. If you’re already there, shake it off and come out, in the Name of Jesus! Make sure you are hearing God’s Word. [Romans 10:17] Shake off lethargy and dullness. Be diligent; be enthusiastic. Get in faith and build yourself up from there. Be patient. Be steady and consistent. This kind of life pleases God and is much better for you.