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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Long Range Spiritual Progress

In college I earned a music education degree, though beyond some substitute teaching in Fort Worth while attending seminary, I never worked in a school where I taught students. Still, I've always been around those who work in the field of education. My dad was/is an educator. Many of Mom and Dad’s friends were educators and I’ve always had friends in the field. Because Banner Christian School meets in our facility, I have the benefit of working about as close to the education process as possible. It seems to me that one of the most disheartening things for a teacher is to have a student ask in one way or another, “Tell me the least that I can do so that I just get by or just get the grade that I want.” It betrays an attitude that doesn’t value learning but just wants to find out the least they can do. One of my recent professors, Dr. Tim Laniak, who teaches Old Testament at Gordon Conwell, a brilliant guy and an incredibly challenging instructor combatted this tendency in a unique way. He challenges his students to take their course syllabus and instead of bemoaning the difficulty of the assignments, to instead add something to the syllabus like reading an additional book or writing another paper. I wish I had heard a challenge like that earlier in life, but if I had I’m not sure that I would have paid attention.

I think its possible to do something like the unmotivated student with God. In other words I think it possible to approach God with an attitude that says we just want to make sure that we pass, that we miss hell and go to heaven, but don’t care about growing beyond that, or making any further spiritual progress. This becomes an issue when looking at a tough passage of scripture that makes you wonder whether the author is speaking about a person who is saved or lost. There are many passages like this, one from which I will speak on Sunday, the parable of the sower in Mark 4. What if the Holy Spirit deliberately determined to inspire the writers of scripture to leave this question vague in some of these instances? That provokes deeper thinking about what such texts mean and makes positive change more likely. I believe that we are to allow such passages to grab our attention. They serve as warning signs to alert us to spiritual danger that needs to be investigated and addressed.

Growth happens when something is alive and healthy. Mark 4 clearly teaches that spiritual growth should be taking place and that if it is not, something is wrong that needs immediate attention. The message title is “A Long Range View of Spiritual Growth.” The text includes three parables that give a complete picture of how we should view and pursue spiritual growth. You can see the text and outline for the message below. 


P.S. I'm excited about the Life Action Ministries Event taking place here at Bethany Place in May. You can read more about that here.

A Long Range View of Spiritual Growth
Discerning? No, Following God’s Will, Part 3
Mark 4:1-34

1.    Mix hearing with faith
Mark 4:1–9 (ESV) Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Mark 4:13–20 (ESV) 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

2.    Persist in this style of listening to root out misunderstanding
Mark 4:10–12 (ESV) 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
Mark 4:21–25 (ESV) 21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

3.    Exert patience in pursuing spiritual growth 26-34
Mark 4:26–34 (ESV) 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


  1. So often when we hear a familiar passage, we "tune out" instead of meditating and allowing God's Holy Spirit to speak to us.
    Like a farmers crop, many elements must be present to produce a pkentiful harvest. We must not only plant, we have to water, fertilize, weed the garden, toil the soil; God provides the light to make the crops grow before the harvest can be reaped. We need to plant outselves daily in His Word(light)and meditate over it so that we can grow and produce spiritual fruit. Clearly it is easy to wither, be choked out by the weeds or be planted off the path where we can not produce fruit.

  2. Jan, thanks for commenting. I find that I constantly have to work at "paying attention" as verse 23 says. There's a popular saying among those who read the bible regularly that every time they read it they get something different out of the text. That is not my experience and actually I hope its not exactly what they mean. For me, paying attention either requires writing or repeating a verse 2 or 3 times or my mind will largely skim. When I pay attention in that manner then the text causes me to come alive. It's not that I see something new in the text, but rather that the text makes me new, my mind is renewed, and the truth of what I'm reviewing is more alive in me.