Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent 1 - Growing In the Word of God

First Sunday of Lent, 2011
Part 1 of “So…Why?” Sermon Series

PART 1: GROWING IN THE WORD OF GOD

Series Introduction

I’ve been asking the Lord, “What shall I speak on during Lent” now for a week or two – some very hectic weeks and so I haven’t had a lot of time to just be quiet to listen, but as we prayed and did our quiet day on Saturday in this first week of Lent I felt I heard the Lord say to me, and I believe to us – perhaps even to others, beyond our walls, these words:

Luke 6:46 (New Living Translation)
"So why do you call me 'Lord,' when you won't obey me?

Jesus had a way of seeing into the very heart of the matter. Here, at the end of what we call “the Sermon on the Mount”, both Luke and Matthew record this very pointed question he has asked of his hearers. Luke just asks the question, but Matthew puts this in the context of a very clear warning about naming Jesus as Lord, yet not being obedient to His commands… to His Word.

I’ve always said, when people come to me, asking me how to understand God’s Word (complaining that it is difficult to understand and read it), “Are you doing the part that you do understand?” In actuality, the Word of God is pretty simple, when simply being obedient to God is in view – it gets complicated when we are trying to “dance around it.” Have you ever danced around a clear command of God? The steps can sometimes be quite confusing!!

So I want to begin a 5 part Lenten Series with this question in mind. We will be looking at the clear commands of Jesus, that lead us to spiritual growth and maturity – what Scripture calls, “growing up into Him” or “growing into the full stature of the Body of Christ.”

PART ONE: GROWING IN THE WORD OF GOD

The context of the very question that Jesus asks has to do with our response to the Word of God! We are to both hear AND obey His Word to us. HEAR AND OBEY! In Luke’s account, Jesus simply asks the question: “So … Why do you call me “LORD”, when you won’t obey me?” Matthew has a much more stern and foreboding warning connected with this question:

"Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as 'Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, 'Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized. '

So… Why?

How can we assure ourselves of our “rock solid” place “IN CHRIST”, so there is no room for the aforementioned scenario in our future? Simple!!! Be Obedient - that is, Listen to God’s Word and then DO IT. Jesus said that those who hear AND DO His words, are like those who build on solid foundations of rock – BEDROCK – down deep … because life’s storms are coming.

The first place we must go for this FOUNDATION is to this book, God’s Word – the Bible. In your bulletin there is a hand out that outlines the five areas we will be looking at over the next few weeks of Lent. The first is this area. In fact, James, who was Jesus brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church after his death, repeats a very similar warning:

So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don't obey, you are only fooling yourself.
“Be doers of the word,” James tells us, “not hearers only!”
His warning is one of self-deception: a very particular kind of danger that we are in here in America, as we are fed well on spiritual fare, available to us like a well stocked banqueting table at a buffet restaurant. We have become spiritually “fat” from all the teaching we have received, because we do not exercise our faith through the discipline of obedience! We don’t do what we know!

And when we don’t do what we know, a kind of blind confusion sets in, and pretty soon we don’t “know what to do!” And so here we are as American Christians, asking for clarifications on minor points of theology, while we are ignoring the major tenets of the faith.

The point is to obey the Word.

How are you doing? How am I doing?

Let’s just talk about The Word itself for a minute.

Jesus, as he answered Satan’s first temptation in this morning’s reading from Mt 4, replied simply, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

How important is food to you? It ranks right up there with air for me!!

To our young moms, how important is milk to your new baby? Addison and Caley Mei are only a few weeks or months old and need the nourishment that comes from the rich breast milk, supplied naturally by their moms. Sophia, however, is a little older. When was she no longer on a diet of only milk? Very soon!! In fact, if she were still only drinking milk, we would likely be concerned for her growth and development! Right? Of Course, right!!

We move naturally from what the bible calls , “pure spiritual milk” in 1 Peter to what Paul calls, “solid food.” Paul addressed the Christians in Corinth on this very point: “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn't handle anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn't that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don't belong to the Lord.”

Time after time, Paul and others make this reference to “milk” as for those who are just beginners in the faith. And time after time, it is pejorative – it is a negative reference – urging the readers to press on in their maturity, beyond the simple things of God’s Word, beyond the milk to the “solid food.” Just as we look sadly at children who have failed to develop – who are still on milk alone at age two or three - so the Bible looks dimly on those who, after years in “the faith” are still toddlers, still infants, who need the coddling presence of a bottle of milk or the breast of their mother –

I heard humorist, Charlie Jarvis, once refer to such as the “thumb-suckers of life.” People who unplugged their umbilical cord from their mom and have been walking around ever since looking for another place to plug it in!! So it is with Christians, in our consumerist culture, who refuse to grow up beyond the “feed me” – “change me” – “take care of my needs” stage of Christian life and get into a place of ministry in Christ, sharing what they have learned in Jesus Christ with others who are coming after them.

We are to become “Workmen” who God approves of ! Paul writes young Timothy that he is to become a “workman approved by God, who is not ashamed and who knows how to handle correctly the Word of God.”

Let me just ask a basic question: How many of you here eat something each day?
Let’s start there. Daily intake. How is your daily intake of the Word of God?

The word that is used by Jesus, in our Gospel reading this morning is not the same one that John uses in his prologue. “In the beginning was the Word…” The word that Jesus uses here is a “conversational word!” It is the word RHEMA. Used about 70 times in the New Testament in denotes a “spoken” word. “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice.” Do you have that kind of relationship with God that your bread is the daily conversation that you have with His Word?

Next week we are going to talk about Prayer, in Part II, but here is a part of the important daily relationship – the daily interchange that we have with the Living God, through prayer and through listening to His Word to us, each day, for that day.

God’s Word is important for many, many reasons and in many, many ways, but one is for the daily guidance and direction that God provides us through it, for our life and ministry in the world. Remember, we either see our selves as and behave as infants, always receiving and never giving away – or we are maturing, taking more solid food (beyond teachings about repentance, about faith, about baptism, laying on of hands in prayer, about the resurrection or about judgment in eternity. Cf: Heb 6:1ff) and becoming mature and responsible for our own feeding!! And eventually, as we grow and have children of our own, feeding others in turn!!

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews challenges them with a challenge that still stands for us:
And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding. … those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come.
… For God is not unfair. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other Christians, as you still do. 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.

In our Sunday School lessons this Lent we will also be hearing of the challenge to grow into the full maturity of Christ, that we see in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation. I invite you to dive in, friends. Dive into a conversation with the Living God – We express ourselves to Him in prayer and He expresses Himself on us through His Word. That conversation is where the Word that has been spoken (the Logos) becomes the Word that IS BEING SPOKEN, (the Rhema) into our hearts, day by day. The “Word that is our daily bread.”

It needs to be as regular as taking our food – perhaps that is why the Bible talks of itself in this way.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus,
We thank you for giving us your Word, living and active; sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing our hearts to discern our thoughts and intentions, to show us our motivations and to cause us to be transformed thereby. Work in us, the renewal of mind that comes from daily conversation with You, by Word and Prayer in the power of Your Spirit. Help us to hide your Word in our hearts, that we might not sin against You, Lord. Let us know your Truth and thereby be set free. For the sake of your Kingdom and the fame of your Name, we pray, Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen

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