Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Becoming Like His Word (Part 1, Post 1)

We will not be godly people unless we focus on that objective. The idea of training or exercising is important. This is why 1 Timothy 4.7-8 is a recurring theme for this series. The reality is that we are a sinful people. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “Man is a man righteous, as God made him, but also a man sinful, as he continues to make himself; sinful in himself, righteous by faith.”

Left to our own devices we will turn from God. But with God's guidance, and our willingness, we can turn back to God. But this takes discipline. Training. Exercise. Intentionality. Focus. Determination. Goals. Purpose. Desire. In other words, it doesn't just happen. It happens when we partner with God through the power of His Spirit. And what happens is that we can then become more like Him.

But, before we talk about the first discipline, let me say that you need to buy into the reason for this...not just the activity behind it. If you decide to read the Bible daily, for instance, you may do so for awhile, but eventually you will lose interest because you have lost sight of the goal. This is called Discipline Without Direction. And discipline without direction brings about drudgery.

Let me give you an example. For years, I have wanted to lose some weight and get in better shape. I have known I should, but just didn't have the motivation. But now I do. I told my wife several months ago that I was going to get in better shape before our trip to Israel. Why? Because I want to be able to enjoy the entire trip. The discipline of getting my body in shape is not drudgery because I have a purpose beyond just the discipline. Thus, I have discipline WITH direction.

To now compare this to the Bible, any Christian would acknowledge they should read it more. But why? Is it to know the Bible better? Maybe. Is it to live our lives better? Sure. But it starts with knowing God better, so we might become like Him. Romans 8.29 says that we are His elect. 1 John 3.2 says we shall be like Him. How can we be like Him if we don't know Him? Again, last week, I mentioned Hebrews 12.14 which says along with peace, we are to strive for holiness. Strive. Make an effort. This is not accidental. We are made righteous by the blood of Christ, but if we truly want to be like Him – and that is what a true Christian is – see Romans 8.28-29, then we must do our part.

So today we look at the Bible. The first of eleven disciplines in this series. We will spend two weeks on the Bible, because it is how we best know about God. Yes, we can experience God in nature and know God from nature, but looking at the stars doesn't tell you that Jesus died on a cross for your sins and rose again that you might have life eternal. That comes from the Bible.

And there are three areas we will discuss today regarding how Bible Intake is an important discipline for us. Those areas are Hearing God's Word, Reading God's Word, and Studying God's Word.

1.  God's Word is to be heard.

Many times we may hear someone teach the Bible, and that is hearing God's Word. But more specifically, have you ever just listened to God's Word read aloud in chunks? It is the way the early church heard it, and in Nehemiah 8, we read that in the Old Testament people stood for hours listening to God's Word being read.

The truth is we do need to hear the Word of God regularly. Another truth is that hearing the Word of God is the easiest of these areas of Bible intake. This is true whether it is a reading of God's Word or a message from God's Word. One can hear the Word of God and not pay attention. But Paul wrote "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10.17). In today's world, we can hear it on the radio, the tv, internet, etc. (In fact, you can hear this full message at: - Jan ll, message)

But is hearing enough?

James 1.22-23 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only; deceiving yourselves.”
Verse 25 says that a hearer forgets, but a doer acts, and it is the doer that will be blessed.

Do you want to be blessed? Are you doing God's Word? Or merely hearing it?

After Jesus had cast out a demon and rebuked the naysayers in the crowd, a woman who heard responsd by proclaiming a blessing on Jesus' mother. Jesus response to this blessing in Luke 11.28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

If we want to become more like God, we must hear from Him what He wants for us. But we must also take the time to read.

2.  God's Word is to be read.

This past week, we took several of our old Bibles to Good Will. As we were packing them, I wondered how many people go through old boxes and find Bibles and give them away. My thought was that most may do it because they don't want them anymore. While that was true in our case, the goal in donating them was not to get rid of them, but in hopes someone would find them and read them.

According to the Barna group, in 2014, 88% of American households have a Bible. In fact, the average is 4.7 Bibles per household. Yet, only 37% of Americans read the Bible at least once per week. And only 19% read the Bible 4 times or more. Not surprisingly, many are using digital devices for their reading. 10% now use the a digital device to read the Bible regularly, and 5% listen to the Word through their tablet or smartphone. 10 years ago that wasn't possible. By 2020, I bet those numbers are much higher. I am fine with reading on a digital device, but I still do my best study with a bible or two opened on my desk.

Interesting, only 56% said the Bible brings them closer to God...down from 64% in 2011. What that says, is that people are not approaching the Bible correctly. Let me admit...I have been there. Perhaps you have too. We may hear the Bible, read the Bible, even study the Bible, and know more about God, but not feel closer to Him. Why? Because we are doing it in our own power and strength, and not allowing God's Spirit to speak to us as we hear, read, and study.

So, should we ready? Absolutely.

In Matthew 19.4, Jesus asked the pharisees, “Have you not read?” regarding male and female being bound to one another in marriage.

Again, in Mark 12.10, Jesus asks “Have you not read this Scripture?” referring to an OT passage about Himself.

The reality is that not everyone has access to Scripture then, or really throughout much of history. But we don't have that excuse I just said, there are more than 4 bibles in every home in America. We don't read, because it is not a priority. Some might say, well, I am too busy. And you may be. But do you find time to eat? Yes. You find time to do what is necessary. And many don't consider reading the Bible necessary. In Matthew 4.4 Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8.3, says man doesn't live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. But how can we being to live by every word if we have not read EVERY WORD.

Many people will use the hearing portion to get them through the week, but that is like watching someone else cook a meal, taking the time to smell it, and then walking away until the next week. We have to eat. And, spiritually, we need to ingest God's Word. How often? Well, do you eat daily? Then, ingesting God's Word daily seems about right as well.

Let me provide three quick thoughts to help you start (for those that haven't) before we move to study.
  • Find the time. 71 hours – less than most watch tv in a month!
  • Find a plan. There are many options available.
  • Find a phrase (word or verse) – on which to meditate

Finally, besides hearing and reading, we must study.

3.  Real growth comes from the study of God's Word.

I mentioned Ezra earlier. In Ezra 7.10, it spoke of his desire to study. In Acts 17.11, the Bereans were said to have examined the Scriptures to understand if what they heard was correct. Many people are led astray because they listen to what is said, but do not examine if for themselves. I try to teach the Bible as accurately as I can, but I am not perfect. As such, I encourage my congregation, and I encourage you, the reader of this blog, not to take my word, or any pastor's word for it, check the Scripture for yourself to ensure God's Word is being taught and understood accurately.

A final example is that of Paul. In 2 Tim 4.13, Paul asked Timothy to bring the scrolls and parchments – even as he waited to die. He wanted a cloak for the outside body and the Word of God for the inside. Why did he want the scrolls and parchments - so that he might study them. Paul needed this. If Paul did, we do too. Think about this. See if any of these attributes are true of you.

Paul had been to heaven – 2 Cor 12.1-6
Paul had seen the resurrected Jesus – Acts 9.5
Paul had experienced the Holy Spirit's miracles – Acts 14.10
Paul wrote by the guidance of the Holy Spirit – 2 Peter 3.16

But he wanted God's Word so he could study. Again, if Paul needed it, how much more do we?

Where to start? How about James? Or 1 John? Or if you want one of the gospel writers, how about John?

Really, the biggest difference between reading and studying is the use of a pen and paper. Simply write down any Observations, or Questions, or Insights, and any Key Words. As you become better about your study, perhaps you might Outline a Chapter (even paragraph by paragraph).

True Bible Intake takes discipline. It requires work. But the benefit is truly ours. My life has been changed by is continuously changed by it when I let the Spirit guide me. The only time I am not changed is when I either do it as a task not as an opportunity to better know God or if I don't do it at all. We all may give many excuses, but they won't hold water when we stand before or Lord one day.

RC Sproul once said, “We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”


Our letter for JOURNEY today is O – for Observe. We hear, read, and study because of a relationship not a set of rules. But as we read earlier, if you merely hear this message, and do not do what it says, you deceive yourself, and will not receive the blessings of God. I don't say this because it is my message to you, but because those words are literally from the Word of God as revealed in Scripture.

Tomorrow, I will have a generic post about discipleship, and Friday, I will post some possible application points based on tomorrow's post.

(The posts for this series are adapted from Donald Whitney's book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life)

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