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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Growing As A Christian

     Years ago when I was driving a truck I stopped in Dallas to have lunch. After lunch I went back to my truck and intended to continue my journey.  When I got to my truck, however, my plans were altered.  A young Mexican man was sitting on the step of my truck.  As I approached him he asked me. "Is this your truck?"  I told him, "Yes" and he continued,  "I see this scripture on the side of your truck. I just became a Christian a couple weeks ago and I do not feel I am growing as a Christian.  How do I grow as a Christian?"
I pondered what he said and realized this would take more than a few minutes to explain. It was Thursday and I did not have to be in LA till Monday so I had plenty of time. I asked him if he had time to talk and he said he did.  Even though I had just ate lunch I suggested we go to the restaurant and talk.  What he had read on the side of my hood was Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."  That is what I call my life verse and it is the one I quote to myself anytime I have a problem.  Knowing God is listening and watching over me as I go through life gives me great peace.  Even when I do not understand what is happening in my life, I know God knows and he will guide me to make the right decision as long as I trust in him.  It is my hope someone else might get a blessing from reading these verses.  It may seem long, but it may help someone who is just starting a walk with the Lord.  It might help them through some things I had to learn the hard way.  Time to get back to the story.

    We went to the restaurant.  Making small talk on the way.  He had been saved at a revival and then went back to work driving a truck.  He did not really have a church that he belonged to.  He did have a Bible and had been reading.  The first thing he asked me was how come he was not growing as a Christian.
That is something many of us deal with as Christians. I am not a super wise person but I feel the answer I gave him was inspired because I definitely am not a farmer either.  The answer went something like this.

    Becoming a Christian is something being a plant.  Somewhere, somehow or someway someone planted a seed in our heart that has started to take root.  Our paths had been led in a way that we were ready to receive that fertile seed.  Once it was planted it started to grow.  When a farmer plants a field he goes for a long time and he sees nothing in his field.  He knows he tilled it and he knows he planted it.  Yet he must wait to see any fruit from his work.  Sooner or later he will look out at his field and see a lot of very tiny blades of green sticking up out of the soil. The farmer planted in good faith that what he planted would grow.  As the blade grows it gets sunlight and water continues to grow. Sunlight is like the Word of God in our lives. If we get plenty of it we will continue to grow.  We may not sense it and we may not feel it, but we are growing. Sooner or later we will get to the point we know some scripture and feel a little more mature in our walk. We will sprout a couple leaves and really start absorbing the Word. The key to growing is to keep reading and fellowshipping with other Christians.  One way to quickly stop growing is to try and do it all on our own. Jesus told us, where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)

      Sometimes we have to work alone or be alone, but that does not mean we are alone.  John made that clear in 1st John 2:27,  "The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."  The Bible makes clear that as long as we stay in God's Word he will guide us into all truth.  Anytime we do fellowship with others we should weigh what we hear against the Word of God.  Also when we find verses that teach us and help us grow we should try to memorize them.  If we can not do that we need to at least write them down.  

      My Bible is filled with places that are highlighted.  Sometimes just a verse here and there and in some places whole chapters.  Also the empty filler pages in the back and front of my Bible contain listings of book and verse numbers with a few words to remind me what it references.  At first I was scared to mark in my Bible but then I read in Jeremiah 23:18 and it said to mark His Word and after that I may have gotten a little crazy with it.  As I tell people I meet,  "I am a toter, not a quoter."  That means I almost always have a Bible with me.  Finding a verse and letting the person read it themselves is what I prefer to do.  Then it is the Bible speaking and not me. The thought of misquoting the Bible bothers me.

     Over the next three to four hours we talked a lot.  That day I truly felt I had found the meaning of John 3:8.  Making ourselves available for God to use us is part of growing.  As I told him when we were parting company.  "Just keep reading and sooner than you realize it you will be a full grown Christian.  It will sneak up on you and one day you will realize you are sharing verse and teaching others. As you continue to grow like a stalk of corn you will find you have several ears growing.  Each ear will have seeds and they will be sharing what you shared with them.  Then some day sooner or later it will be harvest time.

     Before parting company I gave him a book marker with several verses that helped me grow as Christian over the years and which kept me growing and moving forward.  Here are a few that I find valuable and why I do.

     Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Notice what it says. It says His people are destroyed.  Not the pagans and heathens, but those who know him.  Why are they destroyed? They do not take the time to learn and know His Word and obey it. Reading through verse 11 it lays out some of the things that cause people to falter.

      II Chronicles 16:9  The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.   

This verse makes clear that the Lord is looking for people to bless.  He does not want anybody to perish.  The key is having a heart for God and wanting to serve him.

So what does God expect from us.  He makes it clear in the book of Micah, and is reinforced in Ecclesiastics.

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Ecclesiastics 12:13
13 Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man

One thing we have to do is forgive others.  Most people know the Lord's Prayer. It is the sixth chapter of Matthew.  What many people do not understand is that forgiveness is conditional.  You must give it, to receive it.

Matthew 6:14-18  14For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you,  They have their reward. 17But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

If we want to live a truly free life we need to follow what John said about the matter, 

John 8:31-32  31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

James makes clear what Jesus taught on the matter.  It is not enough to just hear the Word of God.  We must put it into action. The following two quotes make that pretty clear.

James 1:25-27  25Whoever looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.  26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world

James 2:14-16  14What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

There is a story in Mark that makes clear that even Jesus can't heal if there is no faith. In reading I found in my years of reading that Jesus marvelled two times.  Once at unbelief and once at belief the two stories follow.  One shows what happens when there is a lack of faith and the other when there is faith.

Mark 6:1-6  1And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 2And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary,  the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.  4But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. 5And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.

Matthew 8:5-13  5And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

The prophet Haggai gives an example of what many people experience in their daily lives.  Notice at the end of the quote it says consider your ways.

Haggai 1:6  6Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.  7Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.

The prophet Malachai which is the last book of the old testament explains why what Haggai says happens and how to cure the problem.  Remember the earlier verse it said the Lord goes about seeing who he might bless.  The blessing is conditional if you remember.

Malachai 3:8-12 (and the rest of the Chapter)
8Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. 10Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.  11And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.  12And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.

One of the first things Jesus does in the New Testament is show what happens when one believes. When you read this consider what Peter's attitude must have been.  He was a professional fisherman and he had worked all night and caught nothing.  Yet when Jesus asked him to cast his nets he did it. He may not have thought he would catch anything, but the key to the story is that he obeyed and that is what God seeks of us is obedience to His Word. What did it say in Malachai?  The windows of heaven would be opened and that is what happened in this instance.

Luke 5:1-9
1And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God,  he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 7And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. 8When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken

Timothy makes it clear that if we are blessed in life we have a duty to share what we have with others.  We have it solely by the Grace of God.  How we handle what we are given determines our outcome.  

1Timothy 6:17-21 17Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;  18That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;  19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 20O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:  21Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.

Jesus made clear it is not enough to just call on him, but our actions must be reflected in what we do. He gave two examples.  They sound similar but they both can enlighten us as to how we should walk as Christians.  In the first quote he says many will claim to done what he said.  In the second quote he explains how they came up short.

Matthew 7:21-27
21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them,  I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 25: 31-46

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

I hope these verses help in understanding what God wants of us.  It is easy to read it, but applying it takes an act of commitment to do what God says we should do.  I will close with one final verse.  Read it close.  It is worded different in some versions of the Bible.  The King James Version is the one this quote is taken from.  Who does it say will make you prosperous? Note that it is conditional to observing and doing all that is written in God's Word.  Our success in life is dependent on our relationship with God. It is not all about the physical stuff we have in life.  It is about knowing we are in a good relationship with God and that he is the author of our salvation.

Joshua 1:8  8This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.  9Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

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