Issues, Etc. Journal - April, 1996 - Vol. 1 No. 6
There is no doubt that God desires his church to grow, but what does that mean? The Bible speaks of spiritual growth.
Are you growing spiritually? If not, what can you do about it?
by Don Matzat
Do we simply speak the truth of
by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt
What is "Church Growth?"
Introduction by Don Matzat:
When pastors and church leaders today speak about "church growth" they are usually referring to numerical growth - gaining more members for the church. I do not believe this is a proper definition. When the Bible speaks about "church growth," it refers to "spiritual growth." We are directed to grow in our knowledge and faith. The task of adding more believers to the Church belongs to God. Our church growth" task is to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Spiritual growth is most certainly related to numerical growth. There is a cause and effect relationship since God uses our Christian witness to confront unbelievers. What we have to share with others is based upon what we have seen and experienced of Gods grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. If we have no witness to give, if we are not able to speak of the good things that God has done for us, God is not able to use us to confront others. Therefore, in order to have genuine numerical growth, we must begin with individual spiritual growth.
A few years ago I began a book that I never completed. It was never published. It was titled, "Working Out with the Word of God." In the next two issues of our journal I will be sharing this material with you. This month we will discuss the benefits of spiritually exercising with the Word of God.
May God the Holy Spirit give us genuine "church growth."
by Don Matzat
For physical training is of some
value, but godliness has value for all things,
Physical fitness is a very popular theme today. Perhaps many of you have been influenced by the drive to "get into shape. " The benefits of entering into a physical fitness program are many. You will have a healthier body and probably live longer. You will have more stamina. You will look better, feel better about yourself, and be able to relate to others with more confidence.
While it is good to be concerned with physical training, it is even better to be concerned with spiritual training. We are not only "physical" beings, but we have a spiritual dimension to our lives. The Christian faith is neither physical nor mental, but involves our "spiritual life." Our relationship with Jesus Christ is brought into being by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us to spiritually exercise or train ourselves. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that while there is some value to physical training, spiritual training or, as he puts It, "training in godliness" has far greater value, not only for this life, but for the age to come. (I Timothy 4: 8)
A Spiritual Age
We are living in a very spiritual age. If you browse through your local secular bookstore, especially in the section labeled "New Age," you will find a variety of books promoting "spiritual exercises." Many authors offer their "secrets" of spirituality. They promote a variety of practices such as yoga, astrology, Transcendental Meditation, creative visualization, supernatural healing, psychic phenomena, and magical arts. New concepts are explained such as mantras, shakras, and karma. New sources of spiritual power are identified such as inner spirit guides, pyramids and crystals.
Even among Christians, strange spiritual exercises are becoming quite popular. Some authors encourage Christians to visualize Jesus and talk to him, thus receiving the "word of the Lord." Others speak of their near death experiences, or boast of their visions of and excursions to heaven.
The only spiritual exercise that God himself has approved is to "Work out with the Word of God." He has clearly said that all other spiritual exercise programs that do not find their origin in his Word will lead into spiritual darkness and great deception. (Deuteronomy 18: 9-13)
Therefore, contrary to the popular thinking of the day which scorns exclusiveness, it is necessary to clearly say that seeking life-changing spiritual exercise by working out with the Word of God, the Bible, is the only true method that has Gods seal of approval.
You Need To "Work Out with Gods Word"
There are many Christians who love the Word of God and use it faithfully, and their lives reflect the results. They realize that they will never exhaust the benefits received from Gods Word. They know that there is always more to learn about the all important subjects of Gods grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
I have known many Christians who desire to search the Scriptures because they are motivated by the goodness and love of God. They have, as the psalmist declared, "tasted and seen that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34: 8) They faithfully hear the Word of God every Sunday. When Bible classes arc offered, they seem to always be present.
But not everyone faithfully comes to the Word of God because they have tasted of Gods goodness and want more. There are other Christians, and I believe they are in the majority, who will not pursue any life changing spiritual exercise until they are motivated by personal need. If they arc not satisfied with themselves, if they are passing through trials and adversities. they will seek God to change their lives or grant them his peace and joy.
Being motivated by personal need and dissatisfaction is not only effective when dealing with spiritual exercise. It is also a powerful motivation to get us to physically exercise as well.
Motivated by Dissatisfaction
A few years ago, I stepped out of the shower, took a look at myself in the mirror and said, "uk!" I was so overweight. Having been an athlete in my younger days, I was not happy with my appearance. I was badly out of shape. In addition, my extra weight and protruding "gut" was placing unnecessary strain on my legs. My knees often hurt, and my sciatic nerve repeatedly became agitated.
I decided to go on a weight loss program. I had often threatened to lose weight, but could never get myself to give up the extra helping or the midnight snack. But this time, everything was there waiting for me. My daughter had gone on a weight loss program and left the supply of fast slimming "shakes" and soups on the kitchen counter. So on the spur of the moment one morning, I decided to give it a try. I drank my first "filling shake" and really enjoyed it. As a result, I ate less food that day. After a few days on the program, I began to see some results. My weight was decreasing. I started doing sit-ups, which before had been nearly impossible since I had difficulty bending my middle.
After about two months, I had lost over 20 pounds. My size 40 pants were falling down. My suit jackets felt like burlap sacks I went down the basement and searched through the wardrobe in which I had kept all my old pants and jackets which had gradually become too small for me. I discovered that they fit again. And boy, did I feel good!
Changes in habits or lifestyle are often motivated by personal dissatisfaction. Those who become dissatisfied or disgusted with themselves might finally decide to do something about it. The alcoholic who almost kills himself and possibly other innocent people in an automobile accident will be forced to seek help. The husband and wife who discover that their children are being emotionally injured by their constant arguing and fighting might finally decide to seek counseling. Those who put off going to the dentist are forced into it by a toothache.
Of course, in order for personal dissatisfaction to prompt change, there must be a way of changing the condition that is causing the dissatisfaction. There must be a better way to live. If I would have become dissatisfied with my height, rather than my weight, I would have been out of luck. While doing something about my weight is possible, I am are stuck with my height.
There are things in life we are stuck with, but other things can be changed. There is a great deal of wisdom involved in knowing the difference.
Unhappy With Your Inner Life
I dont think there are many people In our world who would say they are truly satisfied with themselves. While they may not be disturbed by their physical condition or external appearance, they are not pleased with their "Inner life," their emotions, attitudes, or personality. The great popularity of psychology, self-help books, counseling and support groups. We all desire to be different in witnesses to a widespread dissatisfaction one way or another. We look at other people and wish we had some of their characteristics or traits. Of course, we might be surprised to learn that other people might be looking at us and feeling the same way.
If you go to church and hear the Word of God or are familiar with the teachings of the Bible, you know that love, joy, peace, hope, contentment, and patience are important traits in a Christians life. Jesus promised, "I have come that you might have an abundant life." (John 10: 10) He promised to his disciples that they would have peace and joy. Yet, you might look at yourself and find very few of those abundant life traits manifested in your life. In the midst of your circumstances of life, you might be wondering, "where is that joy and peace?"
By the way of comparison, lets say you lacked physical strength or stamina, and you were not suffering from any physical ailment, what would be the diagnosis Your doctor would probably tell you that you are not getting enough exercise or eating the right foods. Perhaps you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. Perhaps you need some iron in your system.
To get to the cause of your spiritually run down condition, ask yourself the obvious questions.- "Am I exercising myself spiritually? Am I receiving sufficient spiritual nourishment?" You can not expect to sit in church and be spiritually nourished one hour per week, be influenced and motivated by the world the rest of the week, and expect to experience the joy and peace Jesus promised. Your diet and your exercise are not properly balanced.
In a Bible Class one Sunday I asked the question: "How many of you wish that you had more joy and peace and that you were more loving, kinder, gentler people?" Every hand went up. I was not surprised. I asked further, "How many of you believe that it is the will of God for you to be more loving and to have more joy and peace?" Again, every hand went up. I asked one more question: "How many of you believe that if you spend more time reading and studying the Bible that it will make a difference and produce more of those qualities?" Again, the response was unanimous.
It is Gods will for you to grow and to change, and he has provided you with the means to do it. The Apostle Peter writes: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (I Peter 2: 2)." The "pure spiritual milk" Is the Word of God, the Bible. God desires for you to "crave" his Word and thereby spiritually grow. The Bible tells you to "exercise yourself in godliness."
There are many spiritual ingredients in addition to love, joy, peace, hope and contentment that are, according to the Bible, a part of the Christian life. For example, the writer to the Hebrews prays that "the God of peace... equip you with everything good to do his will, and may he work in you what is pleasing to him." (Hebrews 13: 21) In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul encourages Timothy to use the Word of God so that he would be "thoroughly equipped and lacking nothing." (2 Timothy 3: 17) Whatever your personal need, Gods Word does have a solution. God has made specific promises concerning you and your situation of life.
If the Word Works, Whats the Hang-up?
I believe most Christians would agree that if they read and studied the Bible more and thereby "spiritually exercised," they would be positively affected. Would you agree? If so, why doesnt it happen? Why dont more Christians faithfully work out with Gods Word? Having been a pastor for more than 30 years, I have made the following observations:
First, I believe many have difficulty getting any benefit out of reading or studying the Word of God, because they claim that they are not able to understand it. They have the wrong impression that studying the Bible is reserved for pastors, Bible students and theologians. They think that pastors go to seminary to study the Bible in the same way doctors go to medical school to study their medical texts and lawyers study their volumes of legal precedent.
For example, a few years ago I decided to telephone most of the faithful members of my congregation and invite them to come to Sunday morning Bible Class. One man responded to my request by saying, "No, Bible class is not for me. Thank you for inviting me, Pastor, but I really dont understand the Bible. Its your job to understand the Bible. Ill come to church every Sunday and listen to your sermons, but please dont ask me to come to Bible class."
While the Bible appears to be difficult to understand, this is not the case. There are many things that appear difficult to comprehend until you learn how they work. Remember your first encounter with a computer programs? Would God offer promises to this world in a book that only a select few could understand? This would not be reasonable.
The problem is not the difficulty of the Bible, but rather the fact that most Christians dont know how to use the Bible. No one has ever taught them the simple principles and techniques needed to work out with the Word of God. In the same way it is necessary to learn the techniques for working out with exercise equipment for physical conditioning by reading the instructions, it is also necessary to learn how to work out with the equipment that God has given for our spiritual growth.
Secondly, I believe there are Christians who are not happy with themselves but shy away from spiritual exercise because they are afraid of getting too religious and having to make some external changes in their lifestyles. They fear that if they get too spiritual they will no longer be able to enjoy a glass of beer or puff away on their favorite cigar. Perhaps they think they will have to spend more time in church and give up their bowling or golf. Perhaps they dont want to become like some of the Bible-toting, "goody-two-shoes" committed, born-again Christians they have met who boast of what they were and what they have become. Perhaps they are not very happy with themselves but feel that the "religious solution" is worse than their problems. So they seek to live with themselves in spite of their dissatisfaction.
I want to assure you that, similar to embracing a physical fitness program, once you undertake a spiritual fitness program and see the positive results, you will be thrilled. There is nothing to fear. The Holy Spirit is not interested in turning you into a "spiritual prude." He simply wants you to have an abundant life and be equipped to deal with adversity. I have never met anyone who chose to begin working out with the Word of God and later regretted it.
Thirdly, by nature we are all spiritually lazy. In the same way we may put off embracing a new diet or exercise program even though we are dissatisfied with our physical condition, the same is true of our spiritual condition. We might be dissatisfied with our inner life, but we dont want to make the decision to do anything about it.
This is a serious matter. while being in good physical condition is good and God-pleasing, God takes far more seriously our spiritual condition. The Bible tells us to "pursue" spiritual growth resulting in change. In the Book of Revelation, our Lord Jesus addresses and warns the various churches of that day. One of those churches, the Church at Laodicea, was guilty of spiritual contentment. Jesus describes their "lack of spiritual growth" as being lukewarmness. He says, "So because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3: 16)
If you feel that you are spiritually lazy and often lukewarm, it is time to spring into action and do something about it. Dont put it off any longer. But, and this is very important, know what to expect from Gods Word.
God Tells You the Truth
When you enter into a physical exercise program you must be realistic. In my case, for example, it might be possible for me to lose some weight and tone up my muscles, but if I think that I am going to recapture my youth and get my body to do some of the things it was able to do 30 years ago, I will be sorely disappointed and frustrated.
God will not give you unrealistic expectations for your workout with his Word. He will tell you exactly what you can expect from this sinful world and what you, as one of his children, can expect him to do for you. Jesus told his disciples: "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16: 33)
Jesus makes it clear. In the world, you will have trouble, but in your relationship with him, you will have peace, because he overcame the world. Jesus was a realist!
There are many Christians who hold unrealistic expectations of what God has promised to them. As a result, they become disillusioned. For example. some make the mistake of thinking that when they exercise themselves spiritually by claiming and confessing what they believe arc divine promises, it will make a difference in the circumstances of their life. They equate spiritual growth with having their circumstances changed or gaining prosperity or success so that life treats them better.
If you embark on a spiritual fitness program with such goals you will be badly disappointed. In the words of the popular song of the past, God "did not promise you a rose garden." But he did promise grace to help in time of need. Exercising yourself spiritually will change the manner in which you deal with the circumstances of life. As a result, you will no longer live under the circumstances, but you will be enabled to overcome the circumstances.
My oldest son played football in high school and college. He carried the ball and therefore became the target of the tacklers. Many times I saw him get tackled very hard, knocked over and pushed back. But when the pile of bodies got untangled, much to my relief, he got up again and walked back to the huddle.
The reason he was able to get up again was because he was in good physical condition. He lifted weights. His muscles were built up. He had stamina.
It would be totally unrealistic for me to say that as a Christian you will never get "tackled" by the devil, the world, or your own sinful nature. At times, you will get knocked over and have your face pushed in the mud of adversity. Working out with the Word of God will not keep you from getting knocked over or pulled down by situations of life, but it will enable you to stand up again!
God wants to change you so that you can stand up again when the adversities of life knock you down. These changes take place as the result of working out spiritually with his Word.
Changing Your Heart and Renewing Your Mind
I am sure that you have heard people say, "My life has been changed!" What does that mean? It undoubtedly means more than adjustments in physical weight or appearance. It would go beyond changes in habits or external behavior. While external or physical changes might cause a change in a persons life or even be the result of a change In the persons life, life itself is more than the physical, more than the external. The person who says, "my life has been changed," is dealing with internal matters.
We arc living in a self-help age. If you search through the psychology section in your local secular bookstore, you will discover a veritable plethora of how-to-change-your-life books.
Jesus made it very clear in his teachings that we all have "heart problems." He said, "out of the heart flow evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc." (Matthew 15: 19) While medical science is able to transplant hearts, only, the Word of God is able to change hearts. Of course, Jesus and medical science are not talking about the same thing. While medical science refers to the physical blood pump, Jesus is talking about the "inner man," or the real "you" living within your physical body.
In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus made it clear that immoral human behavior was prompted by inner heart problems. Much to the dismay of those who boasted of their outer life and external behavior Jesus said that lust and adultery are one and the same things as are hatred and murder, coveting and stealing. The Bible makes it very clear that God works in his people "inside-out." He wants to change our hearts. And for this purpose, he uses his Word.
In the New Testament there is a wealth of material which describes the condition of the human heart. For example, where our treasure is, our heart will be. (Matt. 6: 21) Our mouth will speak what is in our heart. (Matt. 12: 34) We forgive others from the heart. (Matt. 18: 35) We love the Lord with our heart. (Matt. 25: 37) Mary pondered the birth of Jesus her heart. (Luke 2: 19) The heart can be opened or I closed to Gods Word. The heart can be enlightened. Our hearts can condemn us. We believe with our hearts. The apostle Paul tells us that the peace of God will keep our hearts in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4: 7)
Working out with the Word of God will change your heart.
The Bible also teaches that the condition of your mind is very important. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that your life will be transformed it is as a result of the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12: 2) How does this work?
Your mind functions very much the same way as a computer. A computer is only as good and effective as the program you load into it. If the program doesnt work, no matter how big or fast the computer is, it is useless. There is a computer principle which states "garbage in equals garbage out." What you put into the computer will determine what you get out of it.
While your mind is far more powerful than any computer, the "garbage in/garbage out" principle is the same. We have all been programmed by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature to respond in a certain way to the events and circumstances of life. To a great extent, the manner in which you respond to life determines your level of joy, peace, hope and contentment.
The Bible says to set your minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8: 5) and to think about those things that are honorable, good, and praiseworthy. (Phil. 4: 8)
Working out with the Word of God will have a positive effect upon your mind. It will change what you believe about life. You will reject error and embrace truth. Jesus said: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set free." (John 8: 32)
While entering into a physical exercise program will affect your muscles and increase your physical stamina, working out with the Word of God will change your heart and renew your mind. As a result, the manner in which you deal with the adversities of life will be changed. The Apostle Paul was an expert in spiritual exercise. He wrote: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances... I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." (Phil.4: 10,12) Such results are specifically promised by God in his Word. You can realistically embrace these expectations and not be disappointed.
The Word of God Creates Faith
There is a popular notion that everyone has to believe in something. A baseball pitcher some years ago led the cheers for his team by saying, "You gotta believe!" Singer Tony Bennett popularized the notion of believing when he sang, "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows."
If everyone believes in something, what do they believe in? Where do people place their faith? Some believe in the American system. Many place their faith in themselves. Others trust in the benefits of hard work and responsible living, or the "golden rule." Some would say that it makes no difference what you believe, as long as you are sincere. Of course, a great many claim to believe in God. Our coins echo the sentiment, "In God we trust."
What does it mean to believe in God?
Faith, trust, or belief in God is directly joined to the promises of God. You will discover in your workout with the Word that God has made I promises and offers many spiritual benefits. Your response to those many benefits is defined as faith. Where you have faith, you must have promise. Where you have promise, there faith can operate. Faith is the instrument whereby you receive the promises of God and enjoy the benefits.
Faith is a vital ingredient! The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God.
The magnificent quality of the Word of God is such that it will produce in you the faith that you need to receive the spiritual benefits the Word offers. The manner God devised to work in you through his Word is amazing. It would be similar to a diet or exercise program offering, in addition to weight loss and muscle toning, the will-power needed to stay with the program. That would be one amazing diet or exercise program!
In the Word of God, you are not only offered many promises and spiritual benefits, but you are also given the faith to believe and receive these promises and benefits. Therefore, when you workout with the Word of God, you should expect that your faith will grow. The Holy Spirit will produce faith so that you trust the promises of God and cling to them.
Think of it in this way...
When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, God granted to us many, many benefits. In a sense, we can speak of these benefits as spiritual wealth deposited by God in a checking account with our names on it. When we became Christians, we were given our check books. God also provided us with the Bible which tells us what is available in that account. In this analogy, the function of faith is to write checks and draw off the account.
Of course, if a person lives and dies and never writes a check, he never appropriates any of the benefits. What a tragedy! He was a spiritual millionaire and lived and died a spiritual pauper! Working out with the Word of God uncovers many treasures of Gods grace and mercy.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ promises and offers to us the forgiveness of our sins, peace, joy, contentment, and eternal life in heaven. The failure to understand and believe these promises causes us to lose out on the promised benefits. This is very serious. Our eternal life is at stake.
As a parish pastor, I can recall many sad incidents in which faithful church members missed the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ because they did not know what God had promised. They were still in the dark. Their eyes were closed to what God had done for them. As a result, they were suffering, plagued by their sin and guilt. The prophet Hosea, referring to the people of his day, declared: "My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge." (4: 6)
I was visiting one afternoon with an elderly gentleman. He was about 85 years old and growing weaker each day. He knew that he was going to die soon. He was a man who had been a member of a Christian congregation all his life. He had served on various boards and committees and faithfully supported the work of the church.
After we prayed together, he said to me, "Pastor, Im scared to die. I do not know whether or not I am going to heaven. I dont know if I have done enough to get to heaven. I have so many doubts."
After going to church for so many years, somehow he did not know that eternal life was a gift of God. Even though God had provided for his eternal life through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, he was still trying to work his way into heaven. As a result he was suffering from fear and uncertainty I shared with him the Good News that a major benefit of the death of Jesus Christ was the gift of eternal life in heaven.
Would it not be a terrible tragedy if this man, a church member all of his life, had missed the benefit of eternal life in heaven? Of course, it is impossible to make such a judgment because we are not able to examine not possible the heart to determine whether or not faith is really present. But, the mans confession of fear and doubt was a cause for deep concern. On the basis of his own confession, his eternal salvation was in jeopardy. The issue had not been settled.
A Matter of Life or Death?
A friend with whom I regularly played golf recently entered the hospital for open heart by-pass surgery. Numerous arteries were clogged. After going through the surgery, the doctor put him on a strict diet and exercise program. For him, the physical conditioning program was not a nice means for getting in shape or becoming a more effective golfer, it is a matter of life or death.
Spiritual conditioning, or working out with Gods Word and promises, may for some of you also be a matter of eternal life or death.
To receive spiritual benefits from studying the Bible we need to pray for the Holy Spirit
and meditate upon the words and promises of God.