Stimulus

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. 

Acts 2:42-44

Everyone knows that the economic stimulus package that is being sent out to people, while temporarily helpful, is just a band-aid. Strangely enough, stimulus checks like this are most helpful in stimulating the economy when they are given to people who aren’t struggling financially. Only those who have an economic engine–like a good job or investment strategy–and are responsible with their money can take that check and pour it back into the economy. Those really struggling need it just to survive and pay debts. The check stops with them.

This same principle applies to our life with God. Moments where we might have a spiritual encounter, like at a retreat or conference, are helpful but can’t be expected to sustain a person. Strangely enough, these moments are most helpful to the Kingdom when they impact those with a spiritual engine already established in their life. For those really struggling, the moment often stops with them. But for those with an established spiritual engine, the moment turns the person into a conduit of the Spirit, impacting all the people around them.

A spiritual engine is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that daily connect a person to the Lord. This is what truly sustains growth in the Christian life.

For the early church, they had this kind of spiritual engine. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. For us this would be regular time in God’s word, studying and meditating on scripture. The early church devoted themselves to fellowship and the breaking of bread. For us this would be regular times of gathering with other believers to be encouraged and challenged in our walk with the Lord. And the early church devoted themselves to prayer. For us this would be daily time talking to Jesus, laying out our requests, and listening to the Spirit for comfort, guidance, and direction.

When we have these disciplines in our life, they become a spiritual engine that helps to keep us on fire for the Lord. And the fruit from this kind of intimacy with the Lord is undeniable. For the early church, the apostles regularly engaged in signs and wonders, miracles, healings, and deliverances, etc. The miracles were signs pointing people to the reality of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God among them. And all the believers shared their possessions with each other. They took care of each other and the outsider. They were a close-knit community.

When moments of spiritual encounter come, they fuel the fire of those who are already operating with a spiritual engine in their life. Without this, these incredible moments become a flash in the pan. Too many followers of Jesus think that spending one-on-one time with the Lord is optional. It’s not. Daily time in the word, in prayer, and regular time connecting to other believers is essential for growth.

Maturity in Christ

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food…

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

Hebrews 5:12; 6:1-3 (New Living Translation)

At some point in the Christian life, one must move past the basic teachings of the faith in order to mature. The writer of Hebrews tells us that there are meatier lessons for us to learn if we could only move past the foundations of the faith. So much of the church in America is still stuck on the basics and this has stagnated its spiritual maturity.

So why haven’t we moved on to the deeper things of God?

I think it is because we’ve lost trust in God’s revelation, His word. Instead, we have made our reason and experience our primary authority. Our rational understanding can only take us so far. We can only “make sense” of so much, then we reach our limit. The only way to go deeper is to trust that what God has revealed in His word is wiser than human wisdom. Trusting God’s revelation takes us further into the mind of Christ than simply trusting our own understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is one way to think about the four main sources of truth we use as we process our faith. Scripture is the first and primary authority for faith and practice. Picture a pyramid with scripture at the very top point. Experience, Reason, and Tradition are the other three (the three points at the bottom of the pyramid). These three are used by God to help us bring greater understanding, but they never supersede God’s revelation in scripture. God’s wisdom is different and better than human wisdom.

When people get stuck on the basics of the faith, they start arguing about silly theological minutia. Because they haven’t moved on to maturity in their relationship with the Lord, they participate in a kind of imitation of maturity, a counterfeit maturity, by arguing about things that don’t matter. Paul warned Timothy about this. He said, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul warned Titus of the same thing only with stronger language.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

Titus 3:9-10

It’s one thing to raise questions because you are curious and want to learn. This kind of person has a posture of teachability. But there is another kind of posture that is obstinate. This person raises questions not because they want to learn but because they want to raise doubts, look smart, and feel important. If too much of this is in a church community, the church is never allowed to move beyond the basics and into the deeper things of God. Like the writer of Hebrews says, by this time, a person with this much theological knowledge should be a teacher and, instead, their lack of spiritual maturity still has them drinking milk.

Spiritual maturity isn’t about the acquisition of knowledge but about intimacy with the Lord the application of revelation. It’s less about how much one has “figured out” and more about how much one has surrendered their mind, will, and emotions to the Lord. It’s less about theology and more about trust. And trust will take you much further than your reason and understanding. Reason can only take us so far, then we must trust God’s revelation of Himself to us. And the embrace of revelation comes from intimate time with the Lord, time in prayer, time reading God’s word, time listening to the promptings of the Spirit, and obedience to God’s direction.

Good Question

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they tried to trap Jesus with a theologically difficult hypothetical situation. They wove this complex story that they thought would trap Jesus.

Jesus responds with the above reply. He tells them that the question itself is based off of faulty assumptions and that the question itself is in error. He would then go on to give them an answer to their question and challenge their assumptions about the resurrection.

But we should stop and notice that it wasn’t the answer that the Sadducees got wrong; it was their question that they got wrong. If we ask questions that are filled with faulty assumptions and poor understandings then it doesn’t matter the answer; any and all answers will be in error. Jesus had to correct their question before He corrected their answer.

Notice why their question was in error. Jesus lists two reasons: 1) they didn’t know the Scriptures and 2) they didn’t know the power of God. In other words, if we don’t have a working knowledge of BOTH the Scriptures and the power of God we’ll not only get our answers wrong, we’ll ask questions that are full of error.

How many evangelicals know the Scriptures but have no understanding of God’s power? How many charismatics have understanding of God’s power but have no understanding of the Scriptures? How many mainline protestants have no working knowledge of either? We shouldn’t then be surprised when the questions people are asking are full of error, not to mention their answers.

If you’ve never operated in the power of God, then learn from those who have. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. If you don’t know much about the Bible, then learn from those who do. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. Only then will we start to ask good questions, questions that lead to the truth instead of questions that lead to unbelief and doubt.

For example, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question that is full of error. It assumes the people are good and puts God’s goodness on trial, as if God should prove Himself to us, and yet our goodness goes without question. Can you see how arrogant this question is? Can you see how full of error it is? Once you ask such a poorly framed question, you’re bound to get a bad answer.

Yet, we know people are not “good” but are full of sin. We know people do all kinds of evil in the world. We know secret sins of every kind abound. Yet, God can only and always be perfectly good. So His goodness is never on trial. He never has to prove Himself to humanity (especially not after what He did on the cross).

So a better question would be “Why do so many good things happen to all of us who are so deeply messed up?” This is a good question, one worth pondering. And ultimately, while our goodness is on trial (as it should be), God is revealed for who He really is–a loving and gracious Father, slow to anger and abounding in love.

If you ask bad questions, you’re bound to get bad answers. Are there questions that you’ve been asking that are full of error? Do they need to get reframed in light of truth?

If we want to ask good questions, we must know the Scriptures and the power of God. Only then will our questions align with the truth. And God is pleased to answer all of our questions aligned with the truth.

Time With Him

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 

Matthew 10:27

Imagine waking up, not drinking coffee, and skipping breakfast. Lunch rolls around and you have too much work to do so you skip that. Just as you get home from working late, your child is late to a sporting event. So you rush out the door skipping dinner. You finally get home and get all the kids to bed. How are you feeling right now? And what are the chances of you eating something healthy?

For most of us in this moment, we’re feeling tired, run-down, exhausted, irritable and possibly depressed. The likelihood that we will eat something good for us is very slim.

While most of us would try to limit days like this because of the physical toll it would take, many of us are doing this very thing daily when it comes to our spiritual lives. We are not getting up in the morning and spending time worshiping, praying and reading God’s word. We’re not spending time in silence hearing from the Lord. And we aren’t checking in with God throughout the day.

We get to the end of each day and wonder why our spirit is worn down. We wonder why God feels distant. We wonder why we are so tempted by sin, so tempted to feed our soul with destructive things rather than healthy things.

Spending time with the Lord is like stepping into sunlight. Our spirit has a solar panel for the glory of God. When we worship, when we pray, when we read scripture, heaven opens up over us, the glory of God shines on us, and angels ascend and descend upon us (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51; Luke 22:43). The batteries in our spirit and our soul get recharged. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us (James 4:8; Hebrews 10:22). And just like a wireless charger for our phone, our proximity to Him causes our spirit to be recharged with His Spirit.

It is in this place of proximity, this place of intimacy–this place of adoration and worship–that the Lord shares things with us. If we draw near to Him and quiet our hearts enough to listen, He will whisper things into our ears. He will tell us things. He will show us mental pictures of things. He will speak.

If we get alone with Him in the dark morning hours, we will have lots to share in the daylight hours. He will tell us things to proclaim from the rooftops.

How are you spending time alone with God?

How are you daily recharging your spirit?

Double-edged Sword

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

Hebrews 4:12 NASB

Reading scripture regularly is so important to the Christian life. Many followers of Jesus believe they can live the Christian life without immersing themselves in the word of God. But this leaves us open to deception and the ever-changing whims of cultural preference. We need the word of God in our life, regularly bringing us back to the truth.

The word of God is living. It is alive. It moves and breathes when we read it. This is why we can read it a thousand times and never get to the end of its power and wisdom. Like the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, when the Holy Spirit breathes on the word of God, it comes alive to us. Without the Spirit, without ears to hear, you can read and study scripture your whole life and it will only be an ancient text to criticize, writings from a bygone era, as dead as dry bones in a desert valley. Without the Spirit, the Bible is just a book to dissect and reject.

The word of God is active. The word used here in the Greek means “at work.” The root word is where we get the English word “energize.” The word of God speaks to our hearts and begins to expose us. It highlights the good and brings conviction where there is sin. The word of God is at work renewing our mind, changing the way we think and changing how we see the nature of God.

The word of God is a sword that pierces us deeply. It pierces us all the way down to that place where soul and spirit meet inside of us. It pierces our bodies all the way down to where the joints meet, down to our bones. It reaches down to our hearts and into our thoughts, exposing the unhealthy things that exist there.

And with the word of God, it’s a double-edged sword. There are always two sides to the cutting. It declares the good news that salvation is available. Yet, it also demands that we admit we need saving. Those are the two edges of God’s word. It declares that we can be healed, if only we’d admit we need healing.

To those humble enough to admit their need, the sword is a surgical scalpel removing the cancerous tumor of sin. To those offended by the notion that they need saving or that they need healing, the sword cuts painfully into their pride. To the tax-collectors, sinners and prostitutes, this sword meant hope, life, healing and salvation. To the Pharisees, this sword was a constant irritation, a constant cutting against their pride and posture of superiority.

This is the beauty of the Bible. We don’t like people judging us, but we need help exposing our blind sides. There are things about us that need addressed; they need lovingly corrected, so that we can be made aware and be set free from our selfishness and sin. And so we come to the word of God, and it graciously exposes our hidden thoughts and the intensions of our heart. It judges us as we stand naked and exposed before God.

And in this place we don’t receive harsh condemnation, but instead loving correction, full of grace and truth. When we allow the word of God to pierce our lives, we are transformed by love. His kindness leads us to repentance. Like a Father doing surgery on His sons and daughters, we leave our time in the word of God changed, different, encouraged, embolden, loved, forgiven, and hopeful.

Father, thank you for your word! We are grateful for it!