Growing up I constantly heard that there were two things you didn’t engage persons in conversations about, religion and politics. Why? Most conversations in these two areas, especially politics, gender strife, disagreement, and categorizing.
For the past year, starting in 2015, our nation has been engaged in one of the most heated and contentious discussion and debate about Presidential candidates, in modern times. During this time 20-25 persons, from major parties, were seeking the highest office of the land. That number has dwindled down, as of March 31, 2016 to five. During this time numerous media forums misnamed “debates” have been conducted on TV and in town halls, which were nothing more than question and answer arguments. During these periods of wrangling a new cloud—called ANGER—was formed that hangs heavier and heavier over the heads of politician and the American people.
Few Scriptures are quoted and written about in congregations more than Hebrews 10:24, 25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING of ourselves together, as the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
These two verses, especially verse 25, are used to remind Christians that the assembly of the congregation is very important. You don’t want to miss it. In fact it has been used to shame, intimidate, encourage, and even dis-fellowship members who don’t regularly attend the assembly on Sunday morning. They are charged with abandoning the assembly.
Church attendance is one of the major concerns of most church leadership. The question is always being asked, “Why do certain members choose to miss church services? Next to the contribution the attendance number is a priority. The lingering question remains, “How can we encourage church members to attend the assemblies?”
Here’s a wake up truth you may not have thought about. The arch enemy of God and all people, Satan, never misses a church meeting. Actually it doesn’t matter when the meeting occurs: in a home, in a retreat, seminar, etc. Satan never misses a meeting where the Word of God is being considered, even in private places when a person is considering God’s word.
Several times in his Revelation letter to the Seven Churches of Asia, the apostle John called to their attention to the influence of Satan (cf. Revelation 2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:9; 20:2, 7)
Sadly, Satan has been relegated to a creature in horror movies with red glowing eyes, horns and a long forked tail. He is a character who comes out on Halloween dressed in a red suit, with horns and his most potent weapon is a pitchfork, and he loves to scare children as the “Boogie Man.” Surveys reveals that numerous Christians don’t believe Satan is a real being; only a symbol. This places him in a position not to be taken serious, which is a major step in conquering believers (He already has nonbelievers, 1 John 5:19).
The apostle Peter writes a very graphic description of our enemy: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your ADVERSARY the devil walks about like a ROARING LION, seeking WHOM he may DEVOUR” (1 Peter 5:8). If you’ve ever had the occasion to visit a Zoo at feeding time and watched the hungry lions roaming in their cages, you’ve seen a picture of what Peter is writing about.
As we correlate the Scriptures relating to Satan’s activities, we see numerous examples of how he tries to deter, derail, discourage, and destroy people. It all started in the Garden of Eden with our greatest grandparents, Adam and Eve. He has not stopped—he is “roaring this very hour.” Here are some example of Satan’s attacks:
Satan is real. God thinks so. Christ thinks so. Paul thought so. Peter thought so. The Bible presents the truth that he exists and is out to destroy.
Now to address our subject for this lesson: Why Satan Never Misses a Church Meeting. Before why look at why he never misses a church meeting, we needed to be reminded of one thing. Satan has “faith and believes God is real.” Here is how James wrote about Satan’s faith: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). James’ point is that mental assent and verbal encouragement, no matter how politically correct it may be, is impotent. Satan has mental assent that there is a God. Contrary to the lack of spiritual behavior by Christians, Satan trembles.
Here is why Satan never misses a church meeting: “Those by the wayside are the ones who HEAR then the DEVIL comes and takes away the word out of their HEARTS, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). The Devil wants to steal the word out of hearts. And where is the word most frequently and persistently presented? In church meetings! In Bible classes, sermons, prayer services, group studies, seminars, workshops, etc.
The Parable of the Sower was taught by Jesus to reveal what happens when the “seed of the kingdom”—the word of God—is sown in human hearts (Luke 8:11). When the seed in sown the first response comes from the Devil as he attempts to “take away the word out of hearts.” The next two hearts reveal how even those who receive the word, in time fall away (Luke 11:13. 14). The one-out-of-four hearts that make it is described in verse 15: “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who having heard the word with a noble and good heart, KEEP it and BEAR FRUIT with patience.” Satan loses one-out-of-four; wins 3 hearts.
Satan is not overly concerned or excited about a Christian attending a church meeting; certainly he had rather they not, but what really matters is not being affected by the word—not intentionally doing anything about or with what is heard. Attend every meeting, sing all the songs, concert in prayer, take the Lord’s Supper, give your money, which are great habits. But don’t be a “DOER” of the word (James 1:21-26).
How does Satan go about taking the word out of hearts? How about your heart? How about my heart? Here are some possible ways:
The next time you are in a church meeting, regardless of where it is, or in private alone with the Word of God, remember: SATAN IS THERE WITH THE GOAL OF STEALING THE WORD. What intentional plan do you have to keep Satan from stealing the word from your heart?
Larry knew he was overweight; in fact, his doctor had reluctantly informed him that he was obese and unless he lost a certain amount of weight he was headed for serious health problems. At his physician’s advice he went on a strict diet. Stopping at the Quick-Stop he would buy candy, sugared soda pops. Going through the cafeteria line he couldn’t resist filling his plate, not once but several times, with food and especially desserts. Larry obviously had a self-discipline problem, as do millions of Americans who are drastically overweight.
During his term as President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat overweight. One day his wife, Lady Bird, challenged him with this blunt assertion: You can’t run a country if you can’t run yourself.” Respecting Lady Bird’s wise observation, the President lost 23 pounds.
This lesson is about one of the most needed, but frowned upon, subjects in society and even the church. The subject is self-discipline. To be more specific spiritual self-discipline. There evidently is a lot of interest in self-discipline. When I typed in self-discipline, my search engine returned 2,360,000 results. Wow! That’s a lot of interest. How about your interest?
What is self-discipline? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows: Self-discipline (n), “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it. Synonyms: self-control, restraint, self-restraint, self-command.” Self-discipline is that which you can only do for yourself. It determines your successes and failures.
Since we are talking about Positive Spiritual Self-Discipline we need to define positive and spiritual. Positive is the opposite of negative; it is the opposite of harsh or dogmatic; it is the absence of coercion or punishment; it is grace instead of law. Spiritual is having to do with the inner man, the spiritual side of man; it is the absent of the carnal; it is the quest for Christ-likeness in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. It is seeking to have “the attitude of Christ” in every situation in life. It is minding and pursuing the things of the Spirit.
Positive spiritual self-discipline involves consistency. Here is how the apostle Paul stated this truth: “[A]nd instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written” (Romans 2:20-22).
Positive spiritual self-discipline is the training and control of oneself and one’s conduct based on the word of God. Spiritual self-discipline is the act or disciplining or power to discipline one’s own habits, feelings, desires, attitudes, urges, and appetites. It is Christ-likeness in action. Spiritual self-discipline gives power to the decision “to deny self, take up a cross and follow Christ” (Matthew 16:24). This won’t happen through osmosis.
We are not born physically with self-discipline; we are not reborn with spiritual self-discipline. Both have to be learned and developed through training. One of the ways self-discipline is developed is through practice. Back in 2008 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestseller called Outliers. In his book he presented the results of examining the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Throughout the book the author repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to achieving world calls expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours. While this theory has been debated by psychologists and scientist; accepted and rejected (e.g. a Princeton study rejected the theory), it does give proof that PRACTICE plays a major role in success.
Other studies have affirmed the benefits and role of Deliberate Practice in developing skills and achieving success.
British statesman Edmund Burke argued, “men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters” (www.sermonsearch.com).
The apostle Paul was the champion of spiritual self-discipline. He drew many examples from the gymnasium and Olympic Games to make his points:
Having noted the requirements and need for spiritual self-discipline, let’s spend a few minutes studying some of the spiritual qualities we need to practice self-discipline in:
Obviously this list can go on and on but these 12 will get us started. How will you intentionally practice these?
The only place you find success before work is in the Dictionary: S comes before W. In developing spiritual self-discipline action comes first—WORK.
Here are only a few of the numerous benefits that result from becoming more spiritually disciplined:
One of the goals of positive spiritual self-discipline is to become less conformed to the world and more transformed into Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-3).
One of my favorite motivational speakers is Les Brown. From all his words of wisdom and encouragement, one of my favorite sayings is, “It’s not over until I win.” This is a powerful set of words to encourage entrepreneurs, athletes, and pursuers of success in general. I am taking the liberty to change the saying to fit the context of the Christian journey. “It’s not over until we get to heaven.”
The phrase “it’s not over”, biblically speaking, refers to the daily challenges, opportunities, struggles, blessings, joy, etc. we face in everyday life. Life is not over. Every day we are given a set of circumstances with which we must deal. How we deal with these events depends on which attitudes we choose to have.
The day a person is born anew—“raised to walk in newest to life”—the journey from earth to heaven starts. While the journey is filled with joy and blessings it is not without trials. Job nailed it when he said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue” (Job 14:1). James asked this question, “…whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even as a vapor that appears for a little time and ten vanishes away” (James 4:14).
King Solomon reminded us that on the journey of life there are numerous seasons and times which make up the mosaic of one’s life. For example, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4). Every day we face a “new time” of challenges.
I once heard a man say that he wished he had died when he came up out of the baptistery. Why? Because of all the troubles and challenges that had been in his life since that day—with his children, finances, personal health, marital problems, struggling with spiritual issues, etc. Job’s wish was that he had died in his mother’s womb or during his birth (cf. Job 3:10-16).
I’m not sure where the idea originated that once one became a Christian he or she would have a carefree life. Jesus made it known right up front that to follow Him would require a denial of self and carrying a cross (Matthew 16:24); two unpopular behaviors back then as well as now. Paul sours “the pie in the sky” attitude toward the Christian journey with these words: “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and ALL who desire to live godly in Christ will SUFFER PERSECUTION” (2 Timothy 3:10-12). This is a promise!
From his state of banishment on the island called Patmos, the apostle John gave us comforting truth about the end of the journey and what happens at the end: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. BE FAITHFUL UNTIL DEATH, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). The crowning ceremony will take place in heaven—in the Throne Room of our Father. The journey is not over until we get to heaven.
When we all Get to Heaven
I love the words to the following two hymns about heaven:
Earth holds no treasures but perishes with using
However precious they be;
Yet there’s a country to which I am going
Heaven holds all for me.
Heaven holds all for me
Brighter it glory will be;
Joy without measure
Will be my treasure
Heaven holds all for me.
(Tillit S. Teddlie).
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed;
He’ll prepare for us a place.
When we all get to heaven
What a day that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory.
(Mrs. J.G. Wilson).
When Jesus made His advent into the first century world, it was filled with crime, immorality, religious divisions, political corruption, hatred, discouragement and you name it. In the midst of a rebellious people who sought to discredit and even kill Him, Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me; in my Father’s house are many mansions; if this wasn’t true I would have told you, I go prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3). Jesus is the only way to heaven (cf. John 14:6).
To enhance His emphasis on heaven, Jesus continually taught about the “kingdom of heaven” and how it related to faithful followers. Matthew records Jesus referring to the “kingdom of heaven” 32 times. For example:
Jesus promised heaven, after it’s all over down here, for the faithful. Therefore, struggles will not be over until we “win the crown of life.”
No, it’s not over until we get to heaven. But when we get to heaven, praise God, so many things we’ve had to endure on our journey will be over. Writing to first century Christians who were experiencing terrible persecution, even death, the apostle John wrote the following words to help the persecuted see the blessings when IT IS OVER on earth. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’” (Revelation 21:14, 15). Wow! “Heaven holds all for me” and you too.
The apostle Peter in writing to scattered Christians who were experiencing “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12), presented a beautiful picture of their dwelling place after it was all over—HEAVEN. He wrote in 1 Peter 1:2-6: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to and inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, RESERVED IN HEAVEN for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. IN THIS you greatly rejoice, thought now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-7). Our “mansion” is ready!
YES! As the hymn says, “Heaven holds all for me.” I have secured my reservation, my bag is packed, and I am waiting for my name to be called.
How about you? Have you intentionally obeyed the Gospel and are ready to go, knowing it’s not over until we get to heaven? Can you sing “Oh happy day when Jesus washed my sins away”? THE BEST IS YET TO BE!! It really is.
In the middle seventies when the running craze was in full bloom, a news article covered the story of a man in New York who was selling “Running Certificates.” The certificate affirmed that the man was “doing the running” for others. I’m like you. I wonder about the seriousness of such thinking. Obviously, no one can do your running for you. Neither can you hire someone to do your pushups for you. Some things for you can’t be done someone else.
We live in an age when hiring others to do certain chores, of every kind, is very popular. There are TV commercials offering lists you can subscribe to in order to find qualified persons to do tasks for you.
Osmosis has made a subtle but powerful appearance in the church. Osmosis is “an apparently effortless absorption of ideas, feelings, attitudes, etc. Some Christians seem to think, or at least act like they believe, that personal spiritual growth can happen by exposure or “hiring the preacher” to do it for them.
As a Christian you are 100 percent responsible for your spiritual growth. This is documented in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:11-15:
And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some
Evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of
The saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of
Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge
Of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature
Of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed
To and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the
Trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but,
Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.
I once heard a preacher say, “Sitting in a chicken house won’t make you a chicken…sitting in a church house won’t make you a Christian.” This may be somewhat crude, but true.
The apostle Peter commands each Christian to do his or her on adding: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, ADD TO YOUR FAITH virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
We can “hire” someone to teach us, preach to us, and read to us. We can even “hire” someone to show us how to do spirituality, but we can’t hire someone to grow our personal spirituality. It is our task alone.
We can read the word, take notes about the word, believe the word, but that doesn’t DO the word, which is what we are commanded to do. James wrote, “Therefore, lay aside all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness and RECEIVE with meekness the IMPLANTED word, which is able to save your souls. But be DOERS of the WORD, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21, 22).
Let’s think about some practical applications of our personal responsibility to grow spiritually:
This list of Christian attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors could go on and on, but these should confirm that we can’t “hire” or “deputize” someone to grow spiritually for us.
It’s amazing that we know how to plan for financial growth, intellectual growth, and growth in other areas of life, but when it comes to planning for personal spiritual growth we neglect the most important growth area of all. Growing spiritually requires the setting of spiritual goals, most of which are revealed in God’s word.
The goal of spiritual growth is simple—GROW INTO CHRIST-LIKENESS. But the goal is not easy or a piece of cake. It requires commitment and intentional actions.
What is your plan to grow spiritually?