January 27, 2008

Only One Thing

Part 3: The benefits of feeding yourself

 

Opening:

          Today we’re talking about the benefits of feeding yourself, the benefits of reading the Bible every day and letting God speak to you.  And here is one great benefit: parents who use Bibles have children who use Bibles!  Christianity is more caught than taught!  Are your kids catching it from you?  Your example will always speak louder than your words.  Your values—what’s really important to you—will bleed through to your kids.  So if you value a daily time with God, if you value your relationship with Jesus, your kids will catch that value from you.  And if not, they may catch that too.  I hope to convince every one of you to value your relationship with Jesus—it’s the one thing we need most—and to make a habit of daily time to feed yourself on God’s Word.

 

Offering and announcements:

          REVEAL survey.

Nicaragua missions trip–info night on Wednesday.  

Upcoming classes–back of tear-off tab.

Service change for Super Bowl Sunday: 7 PM on Saturday, Feb. 2 instead of 6 PM on Sunday, Feb. 3.  Back to normal schedule on Feb. 10.

 

Introduction:

          In this series, Only One Thing, we looked at the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha in Luke 10.  Martha was so busy preparing dinner for Jesus that she was distracted from spending any time with Him, while Mary sat at His feet and listened.  When Martha protested that Mary had left her to do all the work alone, Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen it.”  What is that one thing that is needed?

The one thing we need most is a relationship with Jesus.

          This is what being a Christian is about.  It is about following Jesus, knowing Jesus, loving Jesus.  It is about a relationship with Jesus.  And to have a relationship with Jesus, we need to do what Mary did: listen to Him.  So we’ve been talking about making a habit of having a daily time with God—a time when we read the Bible and ask God to give us one thing for the day, and write that in our journal, and pray.  Make a habit of sitting at Jesus’ feet and letting Him speak to you from His word. 


          We talked in first week about “the need to feed”, why it is so important for us to make this time with God a daily habit.  Treat it just like you do physical food: you feed yourself every day, and you need to feed yourself every day spiritually.

          In the second week we talked about “how to feed yourself.”  If you are going to grow spiritually, you can’t depend entirely on me or anyone else to feed you; and eating once a week on Sundays won’t cut it.  You must learn to feed yourself.  We talked about what you need to have a daily time with God and how to read the Bible so that you can hear God speaking to you.  Use the SOAP: scripture, observation, application, prayer.   Ask Him for one thing each day, and write that in your journal.  We have journals available with a Bible reading plan built in.

          Today, we’re going to finish by talking about “the benefits of feeding yourself.”  I want to show you how this can change your life and help you grow more than almost anything I know.

          Once again, I want to acknowledge my friend, Wayne Cordeiro, and his fine book, The Divine Mentor, which is available at our cost at the resource center.  It’s a worthwhile read; and you’ll get to meet the author when Wayne speaks here in June.  So if you want to read more about it…here you go!

          So let’s start at the top: what are the benefits of feeding yourself.

 

1. The benefits of feeding yourself.

          There are many benefits to having a daily time with God; I’m going to give you four of the biggest.

 

A. You will know Jesus better.

          This is the biggest because the one thing we need is a relationship with Jesus and that is what the daily time with God is all about.  I read my Bible and pray and journal each day not because it is my spiritual duty, but because I hear Jesus speaking and it helps me to know Him better.  I said this the first week and want to say it again: the reason for all of our spiritual practices is to know Jesus.  It’s about a relationship with Him.  When we lose sight of this, our spiritual practices can become just another duty, one more thing to check off our to-do list.  But when you do it to know Jesus, it becomes a delight.

ILL: I was in Long Beach this week for 3 days of meetings, and I called Laina a couple times each day.  Why?  It’s my duty.  I didn’t want to…but it’s expected if I’m going to be a good husband.  “Call your wife.  Call your wife.”  No!  I looked forward to those calls.  It wasn’t a duty; it was a delight, because I was talking with the person I love most of all.  I called because I love her and we talk every day to keep our relationship close.  It’s all about relationship. 

This is the first and biggest benefit of this self-feeding daily time with God: it keeps me close to Jesus.  It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.

John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God, knowing Jesus.  It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.  And you can’t build a relationship without spending time together, and talking together.  And if you really want to know someone, you spend more time listening to them than you do talking.  If I want to get to know you, I don’t talk the whole time; I let you talk and I listen.  The more I listen, the more I get to know you.  If eternal life is knowing Jesus, then I need to listen to Him.  This is what Mary did: she sat at His feet and listened to what He said.

          When I read the Bible with this prayer—“Lord speak to me”—I get to know Jesus.  I don’t read the Bible quickly—I read slowly so I can hear Him speak. 

James 1:25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

Notice the words “looks intently”.  The Greek word literally means “to stoop over to look into, to bend over to get a closer look.”  (Bend over to look at something.)  It’s a picture of someone making an effort to look into something, to study it carefully, to look closely.  This isn’t a passing glance on your way by, a hurried look. 

ILL: How many of you have taken a speed reading course?  Those can be helpful for school or when you want to skim a novel.  But it’s not what you do with the Bible.  You look intently.  This is the Slow Reading Course for Serious Disciples. 

Look intently.  Slow down and take a closer look, and let God speak to you.  If reading 4 chapters at once is too much for you, read 2 or 1, and take the time to look intently.  Slow down and let God speak to you, because it’s all about getting to know Him. 

The highest form of prayer is not you talking to God, but God talking to you, which happens when you read his word.  Each day, open your Bible and pray, “Lord, speak to me.  Help me to know You.”  And then look intently.  Read slowly and thoughtfully and He will speak to you and you’ll get to know Him better.

Would you like to know Jesus better, be closer to Jesus?  Make a habit of a daily time with God.

 

B. You will become more like Jesus.

ILL: How many of you know married couples who have become more like each other over the years?  Laina and I run together six days a week.  Rain, sun, snow, wind—it doesn’t matter—we’re out there pounding the ground.  Last Monday morning, we ran and the wind chill was -25!  Here’s what you should know: I am not naturally a highly disciplined person.  I am married to one!  And after years of hanging out with Laina, I’ve become a little like her…crazy!

Did you know that God’s plan for you is to make you like Jesus?

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God wants to make you like Jesus, conform you to the likeness of His Son.  We’re talking of course about character.  God doesn’t want to give all the women beards and deep voices.  God wants to make us like Jesus in terms of character: that we would love God and love people like He did.  How do you become like someone?  You hang out with them. 

ILL: When I moved to Spokane, people would visit our church and ask me, “Are you from Eugene?”  When I’d say yes, they’d say, “I thought I heard Roy Hicks Jr. in you.  You’re one of Roy’s boys.”  It was true.  Being around Roy for 5 years, he rubbed off on me.  I picked up his mannerisms, expressions, and caught his values.

You become like those you hang out with; they rub off on you.  So hang out with Jesus and let Him rub off on you. 

ILL: I play guitar…poorly.  But if I wanted to play well, what should I do?  Take lessons.  Now, let’s say I took a class at the community college.  Roy Jackson, one of guitarists here at Life Center, teaches a guitar class there.  So I’m one of 20 students that meet a couple times a week; it would help me.  But what if Roy, a master guitarist, said, “Joe, you have potential.  I would like to give you private lessons, an hour a day, every day.  What do you say?”  I’d jump at that—then I might get really good.

          After a year or two, you might hear me play and say, “Wow, where did you learn that?”  And I’d say, “Oh I took a course at the community college.”  And you might say, “You may have, but that’s not where you learned that.  Your phrasing, breathing, intonation and voicing—I recognize those.  That’s the way Roy Jackson plays.  You’ve been taking lessons with Roy, haven’t you?”

What might happen to you if you hung out with Jesus every day?  Maybe people would start to say, “You’ve been with Jesus, haven’t you?”

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

I’d like that to be said of me.  I’d like people to see Jesus in me, to see His influence and mark on my life.  It comes from being with Him, letting Him speak to you.

          Would you like to be more like Jesus?  Hang out with Him and let Him rub off on you.  Make a habit of daily time with God.

 

C. You will be authentic to the core.

We live in a veneer world—a world that values outward appearance more than authenticity, reputation more than character, image more than reality.  Veneer looks like the real thing, and it costs much less, so many people settle for veneer.  But if you want an heirloom that you can pass on for generations, then you look for something solid to the core. 

Our veneer world affects the kind of people we are as well.  What kind of person do you want to be: veneer or solid oak to the core?

ILL: A hurry-up father once approached future U.S. president James A. Garfield while he was still the president of a local college.  “Is there anyway you can get my son through this institution faster than four years?  Time is running short and the business world is waiting!”

          “It all depends on what you want,” Garfield replied.  “Squash will take only three months, but if you want oak, that requires four years.” 

If you want to be authentic to the core, it requires time—daily time with God that builds your character and makes you slowly and steadily more like Christ. 

          Here’s a great definition of “slowness”:  “Slowness is God’s optimum speed in bringing about His likeness in you.”  We live in a microwave culture that wants everything fast.  “God make me like you, and do it now.”  You can make superficial changes fast, but to be changed inside, deep in the core of you are, takes time—daily time with God, day after day, year after year.  There are no shortcuts to authenticity.

          I’ve listed three verses on your outline that use the world “sincerity”; we’ll read just one.

2 Corinthians 1:12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.

Paul said that he had conducted himself with sincerity, the sincerity that comes from God.  The Greek word literally means “tested by sunlight”, and was used to refer to someone who was genuine, authentic to the core. 

ILL: When someone made a statue, he started with a piece of marble.  Good marble was solid all the way to the core.  But some marble had imperfections or blemishes; or the sculptor might make a mistake.  These blemishes were then filled in with wax, usually so skillfully that they were almost impossible to spot.  But if the statue was left in the hot sun, the wax melted and the fraud was exposed.  So sculptors would say that their statues were “sincere”: tested by sunlight, and proved to be authentic to the core.

Each day as we make time for God and sit at His feet and listen to His word, we are exposing ourselves to the sunlight of His Word.  We are being tested by sunlight, and made authentic to the core. 

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

When I read God’s word, it reads me.  It fillets my heart, exposing what is really there, so God’s light can melt and purify me. 

ILL: One of the most important turning points of my life came out of my daily time with God in February 1986.  For four years, I had been unhappy about the growth of our church.  I would go home depressed every Sunday, and go to the basement and read the want ads, looking for other jobs.  “There has to be something I can do better than this.”  No matter how good things were, it was never enough.

          On this day in February, 1986, I was reading in Luke 14, where Jesus healed a man with a withered hand, and the Pharisees were upset about it.  I thought about it, and then I wrote in my journal, “The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is that Jesus really cared for this man, but the Pharisees cared only about their institutions: the law, the Sabbath, the synagogue.  Jesus had a personal agenda—he cared about people.  The Pharisees had an institutional agenda—they cared only about their institutions.” 

I put my pen down, and in that moment, God spoke to me and said, “You are more like the Pharisees than you are like Jesus.”  That floored me.  I asked how, and began writing down all the examples that came to my mind.  For almost 2 hours, I thought and wrote and prayed and repented.  I asked God to forgive me for caring more about building a church than just building people.  I realized that people are what last, not institutions.  There won’t be a Life Center in heaven; buy you’ll be there.  I vowed I would stop trying to build a big church, and focus my energy on building big people, who love God with all they’ve got.

Guess what happened.  My joy came back.  The church stayed the same size, but I was happy again.  And I was loving people again.

God’s word filleted my heart.  He spoke to me and changed me in the core of who I was. 

          God wants to make you more like Jesus, not in a quick and superficial way—He doesn’t want to veneer you with Jesus.  He wants to change you all the way to the core, make you authentic through and through.  This doesn’t happen in a hurry.  Authenticity comes from a systematic accumulation and application of wisdom.  It comes from slowly and steadily changing as we spend time every day in God’s presence, feeding ourselves on His word, and letting Him speak to us.

          Would you like to be authentic to the core, not just veneered?  Make a habit of spending time with Jesus every day in His word.

 

D. You will be free.

John 8:31-32 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth will set you free.  I know lots of people who think God’s word is restrictive, binding. 

ILL: One of my best friends from high school stopped following Jesus in college, so I went to visit him.  He told me that being a Christian was way too restrictive.  He wanted to party; he wanted to drink and do drugs and have sex whenever he wanted.  He wanted to be free.

          I told him that real freedom comes when we obey God’s laws not when we flaunt them, and used this example. 

          You and I might be backpacking, standing a cliff looking down at our campsite 1000 feet below.  You say, “I want to get to camp the fast way; I’m jumping.”  I explain the law of gravity means you will get there fast, but you’ll splat at the bottom.  You say, “I’m tired of the law of gravity; I want to be free.”  And you jump.  You’ll be free—for about 10 seconds.  Then you’re dead.  

Knowing and obeying God’s laws will set you free, not restrict you.  By the way, I saw my friend years later at a class reunion.  I was happily married; he had been through several relationships and was bitter and unhappy.  You tell me who was free.

The truth will set you free. Knowing the truth frees you up; not knowing is what binds you. 

ILL: Have you ever been behind someone at red light who had their blinker on for a right hand turn, and nobody was coming, but they just sat there?  They wouldn’t turn.  Then you noticed their license plate—out of state.  They didn’t know the law, that a right hand turn on a red light was legal in Washington.  IT IS, dipstick!  If they had known the law, they’d be free to turn.  But because they didn’t know it, they were all bound up…and so were you!

The truth will set you free. I see lots of people living in bondage.  They believe the wrong things about themselves, about God, about the world we live in, and they live in bondage and misery.  You don’t have to.  The truth will set you free. And you can spend time each day listening to Jesus, knowing the truth and being set free.

          Would you like to be free?  Make a habit of daily time with God, listening to Jesus and learning the truth.

 

          Here are four benefits of daily time with God—there are many others, but here are four big ones.

  • You will know Jesus better.
  • You will become more like Jesus.
  • You will be authentic to the core.
  • You will be free.

I’m going to finish with a suggestion and a challenge.

 

2. A suggestion: a 20-20-20 group.

          In his book, Wayne describes a 20-20-20 group.  It is really a type of Life Group that simply does it’s time with God together.  It’s simple.  You spend the first 20 minutes reading the Scripture, the next 20 minutes thinking and journaling your one thing, and the last 20 minutes sharing what you heard and learned.  So the first 40 minutes is spent in silence: reading the Bible, pondering and writing in your journal.  The last 20 minutes is spent talking together about what you read and learned.  20-20-20. 

          Another variation would be to do the first 40 minutes alone, and then meet for the sharing time.  Everyone brings their Bible and journal and shares today’s “one thing”. 

          Wayne’s group meets in a coffee shop.  Why a coffee shop?  Lots of people see them; some stop to talk. Wayne estimates that over 100 people walk by while his little group has their Bibles and journals open, and that is multiplied many times all over Honolulu into thousands of quiet opportunities for Christ. 

          I am suggesting this because this is a very easy kind of Life Group to start and run.  If you are not in a Life Group, here’s one you can start very easily.  Just invite a couple friends to join you once a week for devotions, for your daily time with God, and do it together.  I know a number of you who are doing this already with great results.  Start a 20-20-20 group.

 

3. A challenge: make a habit of a daily time with God.

          I’ll finish with a story from the The Divine Mentor

ILL: Wayne writes that he made a trip to China to teach 20 leaders of the underground church there.  These 20 leaders endured a 13 hour train ride to get there, then sat cross-legged on a wooden floor in a small stuffy room from 8 AM to 6 PM while Wayne spoke.  They did this for three days straight.

          At one of the first meetings, Wayne asked some questions to get acquainted with these leaders, most of whom were humble farmers with deeply weathered faces.  One man reported with joy that he had just been released from a 3 year prison term…for the fifth time!  His crime?  Faith in Jesus.  Wayne asked how many of them had spent time in prison for their faith: 18 of the 20 raised their hands.

          Wayne asked, “If government officials discovered this unregistered meeting, what would happen?”  They answered, “We would each be given a 3 year prison sentence and deported within 24 hours.”

          “Aren’t you afraid?”

          “No,” they said with quiet confidence.  “We are not afraid.  And if you will teach us another day, we will stay.”

          Since Wayne knew that each of these veteran leaders oversaw large numbers of house churches, he asked, “How many people do you oversee in all the house churches, combined?”  After a moment of quiet calculation, one spoke up: “22 million.” 

          “22 million?” Wayne stammered.

          “Yes, 22 million.”

          Wayne had brought 16 Bibles, so some of the leaders had to share.  When Wayne instructed them to open up to 2 Peter 1, he noticed one woman handed her Bible to another leader.  Wayne discovered why.  She quoted the whole chapter from memory.  Wayne learned that she had memorized much more, so he asked her how she did it.  “In prison.” 

          “But if you had a Bible, wouldn’t they confiscate it?”

          “Oh yes.  So people brought me scriptures written on little pieces of paper.”

          “And what if the guards found those?  Would they confiscate those too?”

          “Yes, so I learned to memorize very quickly.  They can take away the paper, but they can’t take away what is in my heart.”

          At the end of their time together, Wayne asked how he could pray for them.  They said, “Pray that we can become like you?”  They explained, “We don’t have freedom of religion.  In your country, you can gather whenever you want.  Pray that we become like you.”

          Wayne shook his head sadly.  “I can’t do that,” he said.  When they asked why, Wayne explained, “You came here after riding 13 hours on a train.  In America, if church is more than 30 minutes away, people won’t go.  It’s too far.  You have been sitting on a wooden floor without air conditioning for 3 days.  Where I come from, if people can’t sit on cushioned chairs and be in the comfort of air conditioning, they’ll find other things to do.  You don’t have enough Bibles, so you memorize Scriptures from pieces of paper.  In American homes, we have multiple Bibles but we don’t always read them.  No, I won’t pray that you become like us.  But I will pray…that we become like you!”

Friends, you have a Bible, and the freedom to read it wherever and whenever you want.  I challenge you: make a habit of daily time with God.  Sit at the feet of Jesus and let Him speak to you.  It’s a habit that will change your life.