"In Pursuit of the Master"
We've been talking over the past few weeks about what it means to be in pursuit of the Master... what it means to follow Jesus. We're going to continue with that this morning, and today we're going to talk about three qualities that God is looking for and expecting to find in His followers. If you really want to follow after Jesus and if you really want to grow in your faith, then these are three of the most important qualities you must nurture in your life.
The children are busy preparing for their Christmas presentation right now, and they're going to be coming out when I'm done, so let's get right to it...
If You Want to Pursue the Master, You Must Possess:
1. An attitude of teachability.
I don’t think God is ever going to ask you how many times you read the Bible through or how many verses you memorized or how many Bible studies you attended. Those are all important things and are habits that should certainly be part of your life, but ultimately God is going to want to know how much of it you applied. He’s not going to care how much you know nearly as much as how much you put what you know into practice in your life.
James 1:19 (NLT)
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
What's James talking about there? He's talking about shutting up long enough to listen and to learn. He's talking about not flying off the handle when someone corrects you, but to accept correction. Consider if there's any validity to it and learn from it. the apostle Paul emphasized a similar point...
Romans 12:16 (NLT)
Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!
"Don’t think you know it all." What great advice, eh? We’ve all got areas in our lives where we can grow. We all need to be willing to be humble enough to accept instruction and to learn if we ever hope to improve in these areas.
So... are you teachable--not just in acquiring information but in acting upon what you learn? When you read the Bible, do you just read it, close it, and forget about it? Or do you take what you've read and seek ways put it into practice? Here's a quote from some guy named Anon Ny Mous [anonymous]...
“Christianity has been studied and practiced for ages, but it has been studied far more than it has been practiced.”
That's pretty sad, isn't it? Now contrast that with what Paul told the Christ-followers in the city of Philippi...
Philippians 4:9 (NLT)
Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
And as it says in the book of James...
James 1:22 (NLT)
But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
We should all be teachable. Sadly, though, not everyone is.
"Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig."
~ Paul Dickson (freelance writer and author)
What is it that prevents people from possessing a teachable spirit? The number one reason is pride. Pride makes people belief they don't need to learn... they don't need to grow. But truly wise people will realize that there's always more.
Proverbs 9:9 (NLT)
Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.
Proverbs 18:15 (NLT)
Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.
This includes learning from criticism. Nobody likes to be criticized, but when handles correctly, criticism can become one of the greatest teachers we have in life. Here’s another one of those quotes from Anon Ny Mous that states things so well...
“Don’t mind criticism. If it’s untrue, disregard it; if it’s unfair, keep from irritation; if it’s ignorant, smile; if it’s justified, learn from it.”
Be teachable. Learn from your teachers, learn from your mentors, learn from your friends, learn from your critics, and learn from God. Listen, absorb wisdom, and put it into practice.
2. A commitment to morality.
James 1:21, 27 (NLT)
So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls...
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
Do you recall the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010? The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was drilling a well when it exploded, killing several members of its crew. Perhaps like me, you watched it play out on TV everyday for three months. Oil gushed out of that well for the next three months until it was finally capped. A total of 4.9 million barrels of crude oil are believed to have gushed out, with as much as 62,000 in a single day, affecting 510 km (320 miles) of shoreline.
Of course, there was a massive clean-up effort, but the damage was done. The spill contaminated much of the water and shoreline along the Gulf, and a year later there were still dolphins being washed ashore who were being killed by the oil. It will likely take decades before the area can really recover and before the contamination is taken care of.
Reminds me of the Exxon Valdez oil spill that happened off the coast of Alaska in March, 1989. Hard to believe 22 years have past. With both spills, sub-surface oil in particular remains a concern, and is potentially lethal to everything that comes into contact with it.
We ourselves become polluted when we replace God's values with the values of this world, when we participate in evil deeds, when we condone immorality, and when we allow it to continue without objecting to it. (e.g. same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, pornography, gossip, slander, adultery, domestic violence, child abuse...). We are polluted when we give up our morals and standards and allow them to be replaced by what James describes as filth and evil.
Well, what do you do if you’re already filthy? I have two kids... when they come home from daycare, they are often covered with filth. Especially if it's rained recently and they've been playing outside. When that happens, their clothes go in the washing machine and they go in the tub. (We just have to be careful to not get those mixed up.)
Well, here's a couple facts about taking a bath. Did you know --
In 1842 the first bathtub was denounced as a "luxurious and democratic vanity".
At one time, it was unlawful in Boston to bathe, except by a doctor's prescription.
In 1843 Philadelphia made bathing illegal between November 1 and March 15. Here we are in mid-December... there'd be an interesting aroma being to be emitted from Philly about this time.
Well, good news. There’s no ban on you being cleansed from moral filth. You can call it immorality, you can call it unrighteousness, you can call it sin... You can have that sin washed out of your life. Read this with me...
1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
When God looks at the moral filth in our lives, He’s repulsed by it. But at the same time, as we commit ourselves to Him, He will take us through a process of cleansing that will completely remove it from our lives. And what does He require before He does that? John told us... "confess our sins to Him." What does that mean? Basically, it means you admit the wrongs you've done. If you do, He is faithful and just, He'll keep His word, and He'll cleanse you.
That's good news, isn't it? No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, He'll cleanse you. He'll forgive you. He'll restore you. And it can happen right now. Even as I'm speaking, you can pray to God and tell Him that you know you've done wrong, you can acknowledge your sinfulness, and you can ask Him to cleanse you. And He will do it.
3. A love for the Word of God.
Here's a bit of trivia... Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. 176 verses. It's also located right near the center of the Bible, so it's fairly easy to find. It's a Hebrew poem including ____ stanzas, and if you saw it in Hebrew (and if you could read Hebrew) you would notice that it's written in a certain pattern. In Hebrew, every verse within each stanza starts with the same letter, and each stanza moves on to the next letter, taking you through the entire Hebrew alphabet.
So it's really a carefully crafted poem, and you should read the whole thing when you get a chance. What you'll discover is that the entire Psalm is about the writer's love for the Word of God. Here are some selected verses...
Psalm 119:34, 44-45, 47-48, 72, 103, 105, 111-112, 130 (NLT)
Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart...
I will keep on obeying your instructions forever and ever. I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments...
How I delight in your commands! How I love them! I honor and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees...
Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver...
How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey...
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path...
Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart's delight. I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end...
The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand.
Do you have a love for the Word of God like that? Do you read it regularly, you you meditate on it, do you mull it over, do you consider what it means, do you learn from it, do you apply it to your life? The Word of God--the Bible--is not just any old book. We call it Scripture. Earlier this year, we invested several weeks examining how the Bible was put together and how we can trust it and why we should take it seriously. We looked at evidence from archaeology and history, we talked about ancient manuscripts, we discussed the writers, we examined it's consistency and accuracy... all of that lends support to the Bible and to its historical claims.
But beyond all that, the Bible is simply a powerful book. The words jump off the page, it speaks to real life, it speaks to the heart, it challenges us, it reveals God to us.
Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
So yeah, sometimes reading the Bible can be difficult. Sometimes you won't like what it says. Sometimes it will make you uncomfortable.
“Most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand. The Scripture which troubles me most is the Scripture I do understand.”
~ Mark Twain
Even though at times the Bible can bother, though, you can still love it because you know that God is using it to transform you into the person He meant for you to be.
James 1:25 (NLT)
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
So let the Bible bother you, be troubled by what you read, and let it inspire you to let it make a difference in your life.
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson