Spiritual Malnutrition ~ 12/2/18

There is an alarming trend occurring, according to a 2017 Barna poll, indicating a decline in not only Bible reading, but also in believing it to be either the literal or inspired word of God.  At the time of the poll, only 20% of people polled believed the Bible to be the literal or inspired word of God and read, used, listened to the Bible 4 times a week or more.  The percentage of pollsters who believe the same, but engaged with the Bible less than 4 times a week was a mere 38%.  If we were looking at a cross-section of the general American public, this may not seem so bad…may even look promising.  However, Barna Group’s demographic is Christians and Christian churches.  So, why are so few Christians reading their Bibles?  And what exactly are the implications of this, individually, corporately and culturally?

In our consumer-driven, social-media-addicted society, we have become extremely accustomed to quick, small bits of information being spoon-fed to us in rapid succession.  There is no time to chew on and swallow a bite before the next one comes.  Also in 2017, digital marketing analysts estimated that most Americans are being exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day!  It’s a fair assumption…given that the goal of advertising is to entice you to purchase things you likely don’t need…that the vast majority of these messages are for worldly things that have little to no spiritual, or lasting value.  But this isn’t limited to just advertising.  We also get snippets of news, 140 word tweets, Facebook memes, Instagram photos, snapchats, etc.

In response to his first temptation from satan (Matt. 4:3-4) Jesus said that we cannot live on bread (physical food) alone, but also on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  In other words, we should be feasting on the Word!  The way Jesus repeatedly defeated satan in the wilderness was by quoting scripture.  With every rebuke, He said “it is written”.  How in the world are we going to effectively overcome this same adversary if we don’t know what the Word says?  How will we know what to watch for in these last days?  How will we know how to live lives pleasing to Him?  How will we learn to spot the lies of the enemy, and renew our minds, if we aren’t aware of the truths contained in the pages of the Bible? How will we combat the overwhelming messages of this world?  We desperately need daily consumption of His word and not just quick snippets up on a church screen once or twice a week!  Matthew 24:24 says that in the last days MANY will be led astray, if possible, even the elect!  We are in a very critical time of needing to know what is written as it always relevant (Luke 16:16-17) and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The word is our offensive weapon that we take up after we have put on the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17).

Hebrews 4:12 (NASB) – 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.

We have a very real enemy who is seeking to devour anyone he can.  We must be able to defend ourselves with the truth of God’s word!  Read the word, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, hide it in your heart so you will have it when you need it.  Let the voice of God be louder than the messages of the world. Luke 6:45 says “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.  What are we going to choose to fill our hearts with?  Will we choose to fill up on all the junk food the world offers us, or will we choose to eat the Bread of Life?

Gates & Walls of Our Hearts ~ 11/15/18

We are instructed in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts with all diligence because ALL the issues of life flow from it.  This has always been a bit of tricky passage for me to understand how exactly we execute that.  Until today.

I was discussing with someone very close to me, all the ways that we individually, and corporately as the body of Christ, have compromised in seemingly small, innocuous ways.  The church has become far, far too entrenched in the culture of the world.  The church was supposed to CHANGE the culture, not blend in with it.  When the Jews were captive in Babylon, many adapted to the culture.  When they were FREE to go, many, many chose to stay because they became enamored with the culture….the very one that captured them to begin with!  They came into alignment with the very darkness they were instructed, by God, to avoid!  In the same way, Christ came to set us free and yet we choose to stay in the place(s) of our captivity.  This should not be so.

Song of Solomon 2:15 (a love story, by the way) tells us that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine.   Let’s unpack that, at the most basic level, for a minute.  Vines are found in vineyards.  Vineyards produce wine.  Grapes are the fruit of the vine.  John 15:8 tells us that we show ourselves to be (His) disciples, and bring the Father glory, when we bear much fruit.  We can bear much fruit and be doing all the good, “Christian duties” that make us feel clean and accepted in God’s eyes, but if we are consistently allowing the “little foxes” to steal the fruit and kill the vines, then really what we produce is useless and will be thrown into the fire (See Matt. 7:19).  We have gained absolutely nothing and have become utterly useless to the Master of the vineyard.  USELESS.  Let that sink in….

A wise winemaker, who wishes to have the best wine, produced from the best fruit of his vines, will do what it takes to protect the fruit.  But here is the thing, there are a lot of predators who desire to eat/destroy the fruit.  Some can climb fences, some are birds and they can just fly in and eat.  Some are small enough to breech even the smallest of spaces…insects, mold and fungus.  So, needless to say, protecting the fruit is an ongoing challenge and one that has be addressed on all sides, from above and from below.  This requires fencing, netting, pesticides and above all….vigilance!

The same is true of our hearts.  They MUST be guarded on all sides because we have a very real and crafty enemy who will take advantage of any little opening to get in.  Of course we know that his mission is to steal, kill and destroy, so we must always be vigilant!  How do we do that?  Well, the same way the vine master does.  We remain cognizant of the dangers and keep from letting our guard down.  In addition to protective measures we take to guard our fruit by, we must also mind the gates.  There would be no point in building fencing, putting up netting and spraying pesticides if we get careless with the gates for going in and going out.  Our hearts are the vineyard and our bodies have gates.

We have ear gates, eye gates and a mouth gate.  If we are to guard our hearts with all diligence, then we have to watch what we allow to come into our ear and eye gates and also what comes out of our mouth gate.  The little compromises we make with what we watch/look at, listen to and say, may seem small and insignificant, but over time they can, and will, cause much damage if left unchecked.  Everything going in and out of the gates is processed by our minds, often without us being consciously aware of the processing.   Satan counts on this “automatic/autopilot” processing so that we keep our guard down and give him easier access.  This is precisely why we are instructed to renew our minds, and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  We need to be good gatekeepers and not lax about what goes in and out.

Take a good, hard look around the vineyard of your heart and ask the Lord to show you its current condition.  It’s okay if it’s a mess right now.  You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.  Once you identify the breeches, shore them up (stop the bleeding in other words).  Build the fences and put your gates in order.  Recognize the “pests” who have invaded and kick them out so they cannot cause any more damage!  Then tend to the damage that has already been done.  Heal what needs to be healed.  Fertilize the soil to replenish the nutrients.  Cut off all the dead branches that are incapable of bearing fruit.  Allow the Vine Master to work.  He will help you with this process, every step of the way.  Remember that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).