Greg Laurie - Faith 101
Why is it that some people seem to grow more spiritually than other people do? You might be surprised by my answer. It's really up to the individual. You decide if you're going to grow spiritually. You decide if you're not going to grow spiritually. Jesus gave us the parable that we sometimes call the parable of the sower. I think you could also call it the parable of the soils. It's a story about a sower that went out to sow seed, and back in those days they just took seed and randomly threw it to the wind and it landed where it landed. So, Jesus said some seed fell on ground that was embedded with rocks and it shot up quickly and had no root and withered in the sun. Some seed fell among thorns and the thorns choked out the seed. Some seed fell on the roadside and the birds came and ate it, and some seed found receptive soil and took root and became fruitful.
So, he said basically this is how we react to the Word of God. You know, you share the Gospel with some people and they're like the seed that went on the roadside and the birds come and get it. You tell them about Jesus, doesn't penetrate their heart or their mind, they reject it outright. You know the birds, they hang out at places like McDonald's or in-n-out burger and before a fry even hits the ground, they swoop down to get it, or the seagulls. By the way, I hate seagulls. They're the worst bird of all time, but anyway the seagulls will steal your lunch, they'll steal your children if you allow them, they'll steal your dogs even - those little yappy dogs. But here's the thing, the birds come and take it away. Some people hear the Word of God: it doesn't impact them.
But then Jesus talked about seed that was sown on ground filled with thorns, or weeds. He said, "These are they that hear the Word of God, but the cares of this life choke it out". Then, "There are those that shoot up quickly in the sun, but because they have not rooted in the soil they wither quickly". These are people that hear the Word of God, maybe they profess to be believers and have a burst of excitement, then they fall away. But then he said, "The seed on the receptive soil, these are they that hear the Word of God and receive it". Listen, you determine if you're going to be receptive soil. You determine if you're going to grow spiritually.
And I bring this up because some people will say something along the lines of, "Well, I tried the whole Christianity thing and it didn't work for me". Give me a break. Jesus Christ will change any person that comes to him. If it didn't "Work for you" that's not on Jesus. Sorry friend, that's on you. That would be like somebody saying, "Oh yeah, I tried the whole eating thing. You know, I ate three meals a day even snacks in between, but I'm over that. I'm not into eating anymore". Well, if you're not into eating anymore, you won't be into living either. You need to eat to live, so if you did not grow spiritually it's because you did not apply yourself.
Listen, God has given you everything you need to grow as a Christian. We're told in 2 Peter 1:3, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and Godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness". If you want to grow spiritually, you will grow spiritually. In the book of Philippians 2:12 it says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". It doesn't say "Work for your own salvation". It says "Work out your own salvation". That means live it out. Play it out. It's the idea of going into a mine and finding the gold that is in there. God's given you everything you need. You need to work it out. You don't work for your salvation, but you do work out your salvation.
As St. John and St. Paul once said, "We can work it out". Actually, that's John Lennon and Paul McCartney - The Beatles. That was a joke. Forget it. Okay, so listen to this - you need to take what God has given you and let it develop in your life. Commentator from years ago Alexander Maclaren made this statement: "He who has the Holy Spirit in his heart and the scripture in his hands has all he needs". Let me repeat that. He who has the Holy Spirit in his heart and the scripture in his hands has all he needs. So here we are. Faith 101 - it's a crash course on the things that matter in the Christian life, things that you never outgrow, things you never move beyond, disciplines we must maintain from the beginning to the end of our life as a follower of Jesus on this planet.
Here's principle number one, if you're taking notes, and I hope you are: if you want to be a growing Christian, you must read, study, and love the Word of God. Let me say that again. If you want to be a growing Christian, you must read, study, and love the Word of God. Joshua 1:8 says this, "The book of the law", which is a reference really to scripture, "Shall not depart from your mouth. You shall meditate in it day and night, and observe to do all that is written in it. Then you will have your way prosperous, and you will have good success". A growing believer will be a lover of God's word. In Psalm 1:19 it says, "Oh, how I love your word, Lord. Your words are true". But sometimes we lose sight of the basics.
It was July of 1961 and 38 members of the Green Bay Packers Football Team were gathered together for the first day of training camp. The previous season had been devastated because they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, and so coach Vince Lombardi stood before the team and he produced this. He held up a football and he said, "Gentlemen, this is a football". Obviously, they all knew it was a football. I'm going to pass mine. There it goes. Why was he saying that? He was saying "It starts here". From that moment on, Vince Lombardi took these professional players through the basics of the game of football. He treated them as though they were blank slates and had never heard these things before. He taught them the things they needed to know. Things like blocking and tackling, passing and catching and all the other basics. Six months later, the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 and won the NFL Championship.
Okay, so that can happen to us as Christians. We can find ourselves being defeated. We can find ourselves losing instead of gaining ground. We find ourselves falling back into old sins that we thought were a part of our past and that's because we've lost sight of the basics, so let's go back to the very beginning. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Bible. This is a Bible, and everything you need to know about God is found in the pages of the Bible. If you want to know God, you need to open, read, study, and apply what is taught in the Bible. Listen to this, success or failure in the Christian life is determined by how much of the Word of God you get into your life on a regular basis and how obedient you are to it.
Earlier, we read that passage in Joshua where he talked about meditating on the Word of God. Now, when we use the word "Meditation", don't think of eastern meditation. In eastern meditation, one empties their mind, but in biblical meditation one fills their mind with the Word of God. The idea of meditating is chewing something over. Thinking it over. Pondering it over. You know, sometimes someone will say, "I read 10 chapters of the Bible today"? That's great. What were they about? "I have no idea, but I read 10 chapters". No, listen, it's not enough to just read. You need to comprehend what it is saying. We need to be hungry for the Word of God. Chew your food.
I don't know about you, but I am a person who eats three meals a day and I usually want breakfast around 5:30 to 6:00. I get up pretty early. Then I have lunch at around 11:00, and then I have dinner around 5:00. When I say "Around", I mean pretty much at 5:00 at 11:00 and at 5:30 to 6:00 and it's like clockwork every single day. Now, my wife, in contrast, will not eat breakfast and she won't even be aware it's lunchtime. I'll say "Cathe, it's almost lunch time". "It is"? I'm like I've been thinking about lunch for like an hour. I've been thinking about lunch since 10:00 and she is like amazed that lunch time just happened. I don't think that way. My stomach reminds me. I think if you're hungry, it's a sign that you're healthy, right. So, in the same way a healthy spiritual person will be a hungry spiritual person. They'll be a person that longs for and loves the Word of God.
1 Peter 3:2 says, "Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk that you may grow up in your salvation". I know y'all think I hate cats. I've already told you I hate seagulls. I'm going to stand by that statement. I really don't hate cats: I just don't love them, but there are exceptions. There's a cat in my neighborhood. His name is Hopkins. It's a cool cat. He goes from house to house. Everybody feeds him, so this morning I got up and Hopkins is walking around in our house. My wife Cathe says, "Greg, give Hopkins some milk". So, I go over and I pull out a little bowl and I pour some milk into the bowl and I set it down in front of Hopkins. He took like two licks and then walked off probably to get food from some other neighbor. I'm thinking, "Wait, I just poured all that milk in a bowl for you", and that's how some of us are. Yeah, we desire the sincere milk of the word, but a couple of licks and we're good and off we go. No, finish the serving. Dig in deeper. Continue in the Word of God.
And I don't know about you, but when I don't eat I get hungry. You know, I get irritable, but I find that a meal can change everything, just one good meal. And take a child for instance, when a little baby is crying there's usually two reasons: (1) they're hungry, (2) maybe they need a nap. By the way, I found that works for me too. I'm hungry or maybe I need a nap, but the same is true of God's word. It says over in Jeremiah 15:16, "When your words came, Lord, I ate them and they were my joy. They were my heart's delight". See, it's "Oh, I love your word and I consume your word". Martin Luther made this statement about the Bible: "The Bible is alive: it speaks to me. It has feet: it runs after me". And that's what God wants to happen in your life. As you open the word, it will speak to your heart.
As I mentioned, this is a new series that we're doing called faith 101 - a crash course on the basics of the Christian life, things that sometimes we lose sight of. You know, when we started our church almost 50 years ago, I started by teaching the Word of God. In fact, this is my original Bible. My first Bible that I bought. Look it, a whole page is missing. I didn't rip it out. It just came out. In fact, a number of pages in here are loose. I've written in the columns you can see, and so this is a Bible I've had for many, many years but I started our church by teaching through the Bible and we're still doing that today because we know how important the Word of God is in the lives of people. And we founded our church on the principles of acts 2:42-47, so I'd like you to read those with me, if you would, right now.
By the way, before I read them, this happened on the heels of the birth of the church. This is what happened after the day of Pentecost when the church was born. The Holy Spirit was poured out on believers the Bible tells us, and now this is what the church did in the aftermath of that and this is what the church should be doing today to stay strong spiritually. Acts 2:42, "Those that gladly received his word were baptized: and that day, three-thousands souls were added to them: and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and the breaking of bread, and in doctrine and fellowship and prayers". Now drop down to verse 46, "So, continuing daily, with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people: and the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved".
So, I've summed this up in an acronym - W.E.L.L.
W - For they were a Worshiping church.
E - They were an Evangelizing church.
L - Number one, they were a Learning church.
L - Number two, they were a Loving church.
I'll deal with those other principles later. Let me just focus on this one. They were a learning church. Verse 42, "They continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers". This phrase "Continued steadfastly" speaks of passion. It speaks of people that were really engaged. You know, we need anointed preaching today for sure, but I think we also need anointed listening. Giving your attention with intention, paying attention. Jesus would often say, "He that has ears to hear, let them hear". If we were to update that, it might go along these lines, "Listen up, pay attention to what I am saying to you right now". Don't just watch what we're doing here at harvest at home passively. Pay attention because we're sharing with you the Word of God.
So, if you want to be a growing Christian, number one, you must read, love, study, memorize the Word of God. Principle number two: if you want to be a growing Christian, you need to read the Bible as if your life depended on it because it does. Again, you need to read the Bible as if your life depended upon it because it does. Years ago, Cathe and I were back in Florida speaking and we flew back to L.A., so we got on the plane and you know how they go through the safety protocols. In case of an emergency landing, there's a seat cushion under your seat and here's your little whistle that you blow, which never gave me a lot of comfort, and here's the exit doors, and they'll kind of gesture like that. They're here and they're here. So, I didn't really pay attention. I was reading a magazine I think, and so the flight took off.
We're about 45 minutes out of lax. By the way, probably the worst airport on earth. We're 45 minutes out of lax and suddenly the voice of the pilot comes on the intercom and I couldn't believe what he was saying. He said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to have to make an emergency landing and the flight attendants are going to come back and go through the safety drill again". Trust me. This time I listened. As it turned out, our landing gear wasn't working, but thankfully everything worked in the end and we landed safely. But the point was, when they went over the protocols again - where our cushion was, even our little whistle, and certainly where the exit doors were - I was listening. Why? My life depended on it. When we hear the Word of God, listen as though your life depends upon it because it does, your spiritual life.
Jesus in his conclusion to the sermon on the mount made this statement in Matthew 7:24, "Whoever hears these sayings of mine will be a wise man who builds his house on the rock". Then Jesus went on to say, "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house: yet it did not fail because he had its foundation on the rock". And then Jesus said, really bringing an application, "Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does not put them into practice, they're like a foolish man who builds his house on the sand. And the rains came down and the streams rose and it fell with a great crash. Whoever hears these saying of mine will be a wise man who builds his house on the rock". So, I determine what man I'm going to be, what woman you're going to be because in every life, trust me, the rain will come down and the streams will rise.
In fact, one of the things that happens to a new believer is they're hit with doubt. Remember Adam and Eve in the garden after the Lord had placed them in this paradise, the devil comes to them and says, "Did God really say what you thought you heard him say? Is it really true you can't eat of this tree, if you want to"? And he lied to them. When you're a new believer, you sometimes are hit with doubt. Wow, what if this is not true? What if this is all made up? What if I just psyched myself into it? So, what do you do when doubt hits? Well, listen to this. You believe your beliefs, and you doubt your doubts, and you come back to the Word of God.
Take Jesus as the example. You remember Christ was in the wilderness being tested by the devil for 40 days and 40 nights and the devil came to him and showed him a rock and said, "Take this rock and turn it into a piece of bread". Of course, Jesus was hungry because he had been fasting. Jesus said, "It is written, man should not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God". Know the Word of God.
Years ago, a young man named Billy Sunday received Jesus Christ. He went to an older Christian and asked for some advice on how to grow spiritually and this older gentleman said to young Billy Sunday, he said, "William, there are three simple rules I hope that you will practice, and if you do, no one will ever write the word backslider after your name. Number one: take 15 minutes each day to let God talk to you. Take 15 minutes every day to talk to God, and then spend 15 minutes every day talking to others about God". Pretty good advice. 15 minutes to let God speak to you. 15 minutes to talk to God through prayer. 15 minutes to tell others about God.
How does God speak to us? He speaks to us primarily through the Word of God. So, a successful Christian will be a Bible studying Christian and a failing Christian will be one that does not open the Word of God, and this is the problem - a lot of people are not opening their Bibles today. Instead, we're looking at social media. For instance, every day, 66% of evangelical believers are looking at Facebook, 39% are looking at Youtube and 32% are opening their Bible. Houston, we have a problem. We've got to open the book up and hear what the book has to say.
I remember the first time I started to read the Bible. I could not believe that I had finally found the user's manual of life. I could not believe that these words were so relevant to what I was facing as a 17-year-old kid, and now what I'm facing as a 67-year-old kid. I found the Word of God is relevant for every phase of my life and you will find the same. The Bible is the most amazing book ever written. It's literally God's message to you.
Now, technically speaking it's not one book. It's actually 66 books written over a 1.500-year span. The words of scripture were written by 40 authors from every walk of life, ranging from kings to peasants, to philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, and scholars: yet all of the authors of the Bible write about one theme which is God's redemption of mankind, and every one of these individuals that wrote scripture were inspired by God. 2 Peter 1:20 says, "Understand that no prophecy in the scripture came from the prophet's themselves because they wanted to prophecy. It was from the Holy Spirit who moved these prophet's to speak for God".
Point number three: the Word of God is perfect, and completely trustworthy. The Word of God is perfect, and completely trustworthy. Know that when you open this book up, Psalm 19:7 says, "The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul". And when that phrase "The law of the Lord" is use it's interchangeable with the "Word of the Lord". God's word is perfect. It never goes out of style. You ever look at a yearbook, maybe your yearbook from high school and then we're always amazed at what our hairstyles were. A lot of strange hairstyles come and go.
You know, what were we thinking when we are all wearing mullets, and by the way, I see that mullets are coming back again. I saw a guy the other day. Young kid at some hipster coffee shop with a mullet, and I have to say, it looked as bad as they used to look back when we had them, so I don't know if we should bring that back. But the point is things come and go, trends come and go, musical styles come and go. So many things come and go, but the Word of God is always the same and Jesus Christ is always the same yesterday, today, and forever.
To me, it's amazing that even though the newspaper is outdated in a day or so, the Word of God is always fresh and relevant to what we're facing. The Bible says his mercies are new every morning. Listen to this, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3, "All scripture is inspired by God". Or literally breathed by God. That means that the Bible is God's infallible word. The original autographs - that is the first copies - are without air. There are no mistakes in the Bible. It's perfect. You can trust it even with a recent archaeological discovery like the Dead Sea scrolls. It only confirms what the Bible has said all along.
Point number four: the Word of God transforms us. So if you want to be a growing Christian, you need to spend time in the Word of God. Why? Because it will transform you. Going back to Psalm 19 again, it says, "The word of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple". This phrase that is used here for converting means reviving, restoring, and transforming. So, listen, when you read God's word you're revived. When you read God's word, you're restored. When you read God's word, you're transformed.
Now listen, if you don't want to be transformed, if you don't want to be restored, then don't read the Bible. The Bible is for people that have a sense of desperation about where they are in life. It's for people who don't know the purpose of life and they want to know what that purpose should be. The Bible is for people who are not really sure where they came from and they're not really sure where they are going. The Bible is for people that want to change. Listen, Jesus died for you because he loves you and he wants to forgive you and he wants to enter into a relationship with you. You say, "Well Greg, how does that happen"? You need to admit you're a sinner, not make excuses for your sin, not blame other people for your sins. Own it, admit it, and ask God to forgive you and he will right here right now.