SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
Six Steps to Drawing Near to the Flame
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Sunday, September 28/October 5 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1209/1211
Pastor Don Horban

Psalm 34:8 - ďOh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!Ē

How you read this verse means everything. When David says taste and see that the Lord is good, he isnít describing the use of two senses - taste and then sight. Rather, heís talking about tasting God in experience. Thatís what seeing means in this verse. It goes deeper than any merely outward observation or perception. We could paraphrase the phrase like this: ďTaste God in your own experience because thatís the only way to know what Heís like.Ē

The Bible always makes the lasting distinction between the knowledge of God that comes from description and the knowledge of God that comes by acquaintance. The knowledge of description is knowledge about God. It is not to be underestimated. Itís vitally important to know all we can from Godís Word about the theology of God. But knowledge from description is knowledge by book, by sermon, by upbringing. All of these things are fine in their proper place. But they are not quite the same as living faith itself. They certainly contribute to living faith. After all, faith comes by hearing. But they can never, in and of themselves, complete or constitute a living relationship with God.

Until this is recognized we will probably never discover the reason for the spiritual drought in the hearts of many in the church. Many people think they are saved because they give mental assent to certain spiritual truths and then call this assent faith.

This sad mental process can put no spiritual life in the heart. No individual nor church can long love a God who is no more than a deduction from a text. That's because spiritual truth doesn't exist merely in the realm of ideas. Ideas can give birth to spiritual life. But spiritual life, by definition, exists in the realm of life and experience. The devils know everything there is to know about God, yet are devils still. Knowledge, without the quickening touch of the Spirit of God deep in the heart, only makes us more learned - not necessarily, more Godly.

Thatís why I chose this brief text from David to wrap up this series. David's invitation in Psalm 34:8 answers to our heartís craving: ďOh, taste and see that the Lord is good!Ē Immediately we see Davidís point. Prove God exists and you have a deduction. Learn what the documents say and you have a subject. Neither of these is wrong in itself, but David clearly is describing something more. Tasting includes knowledge, but more. Tasting is an experience of the subject. Tasting is participating at a deeper level than reading the menu. In fact, the whole point of the menu is to lead into tasting the food it describes.

So it is with Godís Word. We should be grateful the Bible wets our appetites for a relationship with the God who can be known as directly as the knowledge that comes from the taste of food. Because whatever symbolic images David used for whatever purpose, it's obvious there's a difference between knowing about steak from a diagram and nutritional chart, and knowing about steak by eating one in a fine restaurant.

Davidís aim in that little verse seems clear. He doesnít want us chasing our tails spiritually. Heís telling us not to pursue dead ends. I canít muster up faith in a relationship with a God who is no more than a mental deduction or a distant product of my upbringing. I canít be a Christian just because somebody - my parents or my spouse - said I ought to be. I canít make myself a Christian because I like the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and try to live it out.

David addresses my life at a deeper level. Itís a hunger in my heart for God - for life lived in the presence of God - for a living relationship with Him through the crucified and risen Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And if thereís anything Davidís little verse says, it says there is a world of difference between knowing about these things and tasting the goodness of the Lord in my experience.

So today I address the hungry of heart. I address those who arenít content with the outsides of spiritual things. And I want to say that the cost of knowing God in this way is high - higher than most people think. But while the cost is high, the path is still simple. All can travel it. The road is also old and time tested. These principles are absolutely infallible. My preaching is certainly very fallible, but these principles are God's and are totally true and unchanging.

It must be said that this teaching really doesn't apply to everyone. Only the Holy Spirit knows the heart. These principles are for those who will not settle for something bland and mild in their relationship with God. These are principles only for the truly hungry. I have six of them.

1) MAKE SURE YOU ARE TRULY MADE NEW IN YOUR HEART THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

In other words, make sure you arenít trying to live the Christian life without having actually started the Christian life. Conversion leads into the Christian life the way physical birth leads into the physical life. Thatís the main reason Jesus called conversion being born again. He was telling all of us we couldnít just skip on to our tenth birthday until we had experienced birth. Thatís a very good picture of the absolute necessity of conversion to the rest of the Christian life. So when Jesus said ďYou must be born again,Ē He wasnít just issuing a command. He was setting forth the necessary, logical order of events in the spiritual life.

Fundamentally, the new birth is a manifestation of the regenerating power of God in the human heart. It is something God does by the Holy Spirit based on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not just my attempts to stop lying or cheating or me trying to be a better parent or saving the environment or loving all the races of the earth.Conversion produces those things, but many of them can be manufactured apart from the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. You donít need Jesus to recycle.

Conversion is something other than anything you and I can produce in terms of changing our behavior. It is a change in behavior, but itís change springing from a new nature, not just a resolved will. Here is the way the gospel is described in the New Testament - 2 Corinthians 5:17 - ď Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.Ē

When Paul says ďthe new has comeĒ he doesnít just mean new to you - like you were grumpy before, but more pleasant afterward. He means new in the sense of something that canít be manufactured by human will-power. He means life from a new source, not merely reformed actions. He means new in the sense of being divine in nature, not merely human.

Here are A.W.Tozerís words from one of my all-time favorites of his writings, The Divine Conquest - "When the truth is received in power it shifts the base of life from Adam to Christ. A new set of motives goes to work in the soul. A new and different Spirit enters the personality and makes the believing person new in every department of his life. His interests shift from things external to things internal, from things on earth to things in heaven."

2) TO KNOW GOD THERE MUST BE A TOTAL BREAK WITH ALL CONSCIOUS SIN

Matthew 5:8 - ďBlessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.Ē

Some truths are axiomatic to spiritual life. A holy God can only be known by people pursuing holiness. That is basic to everything else spiritual. A person has made gigantic strides in his quest for God when he comes to grasp that the knowledge of God cannot be gained by study alone. Spiritual learning is primarily a holy learning - John 7:17 - ďIf anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.Ē

No one could miss the message of those words except by sheer willful denial of the truth. Do and then you will fully know. Most learning can be confined to the mind and the memory. But spiritual truth can only be fully appropriated by the will. The mind is involved. It is the means the Holy Spirit uses to reach the heart. But truth gleaned by the mind only is like food set on the table but not eaten.

Great saints have always stressed this truth. Three mornings ago I read these great words from Oswald Chambers - ďEven the smallest thing that we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is completely sufficient to account for spiritual confusion, and spending all of our time thinking about it will still never make it clear. Spiritual confusion can only be conquered by obedience.Ē Thatís the same idea Jesus expressed in John 7. While our mind needs to be constantly learning spiritual truth and the disciple is defined primarily as a ďlearner,Ē God cannot be reached academically. Truth must flow from the mind to the heart, the affections, and finally, the will.

It follows that Godliness requires a departure from known sin. My mind may know about God and sin at the same time, but my will canít yield to them both. One or the other must be served. And thereís a spiritual reason for this. Spiritual truth wonít blend with the priorities and ambitions of a worldly mind. Each side pulls to claim the entire person. Hereís the way Paul described it in detail - 1 Corinthians 2:14 - ďThe natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.Ē

Understand, when Paul says the natural person doesn't ďacceptĒ the things of God he doesn't mean he can't learn or memorize or even agree with the things of God. The natural person can do all of those things. Paul means the natural person doesnít embrace them inwardly - he canít make himself take them seriously. He means that the natural person doesn't live them out. He's not governed by them. In short, the natural person doesnít give the holiness of God a bigger place in his priorities than his own self-centered will. Godís holiness certainly may enter the personís thought life, but it will never govern the natural person.

Remember, I canít think my way into the Kingdom of God. Spiritual learning is holy learning. It is truth taken up into the heart and will. It is truth applied by the Holy Spirit and embraced by the whole being.
Let it be said still one more time. True spiritual life - the knowledge of God - is not so much perceived by a brilliant wit as by a pure heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Again, A.W. Tozer is as clear as they come on the nature of genuine conversion - "The returning sinner is not saved by some judicial transaction apart from a corresponding moral change. Salvation must include a judicial change of status before God, to be sure. But what is overlooked by most teachers today is that it also includes an actual moral change in the life of the individual. And by this I mean more than a surface change. I mean a transformation as deep as the roots of human life. If it does not go that deep, it has not been properly preached or understood. It has not gone anywhere near deep enough."

3) TO KNOW GOD WE MUST GIVE MUCH TIME TO HIM IN MEDITATION, DEVOTION AND CORPORATE WORSHIP

By nature, by pure physical birth into the human race, the focal point of man's attention is now himself. This is not dislodged easily. The new nature doesnít enter neutral territory in my heart. It will take constant effort and practice to shift the center of the heart to loving attention on the glory of our Creator.

This is an easy shift to say but a huge one to pursue. If devotion were only a matter of words we could convince God with our talk that He is the new center of our lives. But this is never a matter of words. It cuts much deeper into our beings than our words. And what Iím about to say right now is about the most unpopular truth ever to enter the churchís ear. Devotion to God is primarily a matter of our time.

Here is the plain truth. It takes time to know God. Dedicated time. And lots of it. God will not bow to the pace of our age. He awaits our emphasis primarily in our schedules. I can serve God while I do many things. I serve Him at work and at home. I try to, as Paul says, eat and drink to the glory of God. All of my life is a battle ground with sin and self. And all of life can be used to shine the light of Christís kingdom into the dark world.

But Iím not talking about my whole life serving God. Iím talking about dedicated time to knowing God. Iím talking about hearing God. Iím talking about sitting at Jesusí feet and learning of Him. Iím talking about ďBe still and know that I am God.Ē And that takes large slices of dedicated time.

Of course, if weíre honest to the bone, this just makes sense. My life is the sum total of my hours. My hours are what add up to my whole life. My money is merely the pay I get, from someone, somewhere, for my time. I give a portion of my life to someone for pay. My time, in the very truest sense, is me. Itís the life God has placed in my hands as His steward. And my love for God - my devotion to God - certainly my worship of God - is my time returned. I show Christ is Lord in deed by yielding more of my time to Him and less to myself.

So giving God time is first on the list. To say I love Him more and more and spend less and less time devoted specifically to Him is to treat God like a jilted spouse.

But there are other factors in the pursuit of God - Jeremiah 29:13 - ďYou will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart....ĒJeremiah addressed those words to people who were supposed to be the ones living close to their God. But they had become bound in dead formalism, religious idolatry and carelessness in their obedience.

The truth was, they did seem to seek God. They said their prayers. They went to worship. But while they went through these practices, they weren't really all that interested in God. It wasnít that they hated God. It was just that they loved their own lifestyles. And they thought they could have both. They didn't want to be interfered with. God had become a pleasant attachment to the rest of their lives. God then reminds them that He wasn't moved until they reached out to Him all over again, and this time with their hearts.

God tells them that He must be sought with their "whole heart." That phrase - "whole heart" - doesn't just describe some emotional state or the loudness of their cries or the number of their tears. Throughout the passage in Jeremiah "whole heart" is contrasted with a "double heart." A whole heart is one in which the center of the person functions as one whole. Everything is moving in the same direction.

To love God with the whole heart means there are no other interests or affections competing for control or dominance. In fact, itís exactly what Jesus meant when He reminded us it was the pure in heart who would see God. Pure meaning unmixed or untainted with any other mixture.

Let not anyone start out on the journey to truly know God with a light or thoughtless attitude. The climb is sweet but uphill. You will have to leave many church goers behind. Before we can be filled with the knowledge of God, the desire to know Him must be all-consuming.

4) ANY WHO WOULD TRULY KNOW GOD MUST LEAVE THE VALUES AND DREAMS OF THIS WORLD BEHIND.

This long-forgotten truth is buttressed so consistently in the Scriptures that angels must either gasp or laugh at its exclusion from the trendy Church:

James 4:4 - ďYou adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.Ē

1 John 2:15-17 - ďDo not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [16] For all that is in the worldó the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessionsóis not from the Father but is from the world. [17] And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.Ē

Because the world and its desires are passing away, the one who loves God canít share goals with the majority. There must be something about your life that looks ridiculous to the world. What do they see about your life that canít be explained apart from the Lordship of Jesus Christ?

There are many people for whom God matters. For those who want to live near the Flame, God must matter most. As it always has been, so it is to this day. To love God deeply requires a diminishing fascination with position, acquisition, and popularity. The seeker after God develops the habit of looking beneath the surface of the worldís glitter and the pressure of friends. He sees where everything in this world is going.

John tells us the world and its desires are passing away. But where are they going? What happens next - after all the desires of this age have bottomed out and faded to black? This is where the Christian fixes his hope and his attention:

1 John 3:3 - ďAnd everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.Ē

2 Peter 3:10-14 - ďBut the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.[14] Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.Ē

Both Peter and John go to great lengths to tell us how Christians should think about life in this world. Love for God works its way out into the values and choices and expenditures and schedules. Lovers of God start to hold material possessions lightly. They make fewer and fewer choices based on material concerns alone.

Donít misunderstand what Iím saying here. Itís not that we donít relate to this world. Itís not that we make no meaningful decisions about the temporal dimension of life. Itís not that we have come to feel this world doesnít matter. Quite the opposite, we now know how to sow our lives into this world in a way that counts - that is lasting - that has consequences eternal. Our love for God, as it properly consumes our attention, drives kingdom stakes deep into this fluffy world and instigates the revolt of Godís kingdom intention now, in the middle of all the selfish confusion and greed. Our supreme love for God shines light into the darkness.

More and more, the person who desires God learns to make decisions based on God's kingdom and Godís glory. He still lives his life in this present world. He doesnít abandon it. But he makes eternal judgments about everything rather than just time judgments. In this way priorities arenít blurred by the passing tastes and whims of the blind.

5) THE ONE WHO WOULD TRULY KNOW GOD WILL KEEP A LOVING HEART TO A SPECIFIC CONGREGATION OF GODíS PEOPLE - ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO WRONG HIM

Earlier I spoke about the importance of giving God time - lots of time - especially in corporate worship. But I didnít really say why this was so essential when it comes to loving God and living close to His presence. I hope to make this clear now. And it needs to be made clear because even people in the church have come to see attendance and involvement in a local body of believers as nice, but less than the central issue in following Christ.

I have two key Bible texts I want to briefly consider:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 - ďDo you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.Ē

When Paul says ď....you are Godís temple and....Godís Spirit dwells in you...Ē he doesnít mean you the individual, but you the church. This is not a matter of personal opinion. What your Bible canít show in English is that word ďyouĒ in each usage in this text is plural, not singular. So Paul doesnít mean ďyouĒ - Don Horban, but ďyouĒ - Cedarview Community Church. That is simply a fact of the Greek language.

Please let that register. It flies in the face of so many books very popular in Evangelical circles right now. Theology ďa la The ShackĒ is that burnt out, abused, too religiously concerned Christians need to get away from all the hypocrisy and sham and just ďbeĒ before God to find a deeper, more genuine spirituality. Nasty, organized religion has forfeited the life of Jesus. All that churchy stuff needs to be stripped away before the genuine power of the kingdom of God can burn to life once again in your soul.

And anyone whoís grown up in church can easily testify of all the phoniness, sham, organizational dead wood, and abuse life in the church can bring. We can all say ďAmen!Ē to all of it.

Yet for all its accurate diagnosis, the idea behind this anti-institutional church movement is dead wrong. Paul says ďyouĒ - the local congregation at Corinth to whom he first wrote his letter - that local church were there was so much abuse of spiritual gifts - where people politicked for their favorite leader - where there was so much division and pride - that local congregation, was the temple of God and the place where Godís Spirit dwelled - ďDo you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?Ē(3:16).

I know we all possess the life of the Holy Spirit as believers. Paul says so - ď....Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to himĒ(Romans 8:9b). All Christians are sealed with the Spirit. After all, conversion, according to Jesus, is ďbeing born of the Spirit.Ē

But then Paul distinguishes between the converting work of the Holy Spirt and the place where the Holy Spirit dwells in a special, Temple of God type of way. And he says this presence manifesting work of the Holy Spirit isnít you the individual, but you that local congregation at Corinth.

Stay with me for a minute. That means when I separate myself from the local congregation I separate myself from a special grace-manifesting presence of the Holy Spirit. Or, to say it a bit more strikingly, the Holy Spirit is with you in a different way when you are in church than when youíre in your prayer closet. Heís with you both times, to be sure. But not in exactly the same way.

That seems to be the essence of Paulís teaching and almost nobody is saying it anymore in the church. And Iíll tell you why. If Paul means that my physical, individual body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, then I can just carry Him around with me. He goes where I go. And thereís something very convenient about that. If I can enjoy and feed upon Godís presence anytime, anywhere, with exactly the same fulness and effect, then I donít have to designate any time specifically to engage His Spirit. He follows me. I donít have to go anywhere to special to meet Him on His terms. I can enjoy His ministry in my life in exactly the same way at the beach as in the sanctuary. Hence, all of my time becomes Godís. Youíve probably heard it said like this - ďMy whole life is my worship!Ē And I can do it without me having to give up my sovereignty over 100% of its use. Itís like driving the car and never having to stop for gas.

But if there is something very special and important (as Iím going to show in a minute) that God wants to do, that will happen only in a local congregation, and if I canít exist spiritually apart from this special work of the Holy Spirit, and if, as Paul says, God dwells in this congregation of believers as He dwells no place else - then I have to go there to have Him work in my life on His terms. I must stop the car at some point and refuel on Godís terms. I have to give God time. And remember, giving God specific, dedicated time is the most fundamental way of showing Him my love.

So whatís so special about the local church? Why does Paul dare to say ďThis - like no other place on earth - is the place my Spirit dwells!Ē? For that we have to move on to the second of my two texts under this point:

1 John 4:7-12, 19-21 - ďBeloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. [10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [12] No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us....19-21....We love because he first loved us. [20] If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [21] And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.Ē

Some introductory points are necessary if we are going to keep from missing Johnís whole point. First, John addresses all his comments to his ďbelovedĒ(7, 11). And he writes particularly about the relationship of his beloved brothers and sisters with their fellow family of God members. The second key contextual point is the whole passage is about loving God - how we know we love God and how we grow to love God.

Hereís the shocker. Johnís whole point is I canít know God by myself. And I canít love God by myself. I can only do those two things when Iím with the local expression of the family of God.

But why? Why canít I love God just as fully when Iím on my knees in my prayer closet? Why canít I love God when Iím kneeling by my bed with an open Bible? Or reading the latest book on inner healing. Why canít I love God when I sing a worship chorus while Iím washing the car? Canít those times be times when I love God?

Well, yes. And no. I can kind of love God at those times. But - and this is Johnís whole point - I will never know how much of me is loving God, or how fully Iím loving God. Probably, I will overrate my love for God if I measure it by my times all alone - in the shack - so to speak. John teaches me I canít measure my love for God just by the measure of inner healing I sense by His grace.

Then John tells us why. Loving an invisible God is tricky business. Itís almost an unmeasurable enterprise. Because God knows how hard it is to love an invisible God He sets us all into congregations - local churches of visible brothers and sisters. He does this so I will have a way of knowing how much I really love Him. Iíll know how much I love the invisible God by how much I love those visible brothers and sisters - especially the genuinely annoying ones. Without those brothers and sisters Iíll only love God with the surface of my life - not the depths of it.

Hereís how it all works. Iím sitting all alone in my family room on Saturday night. I am listening to uplifting sacred music. Iím reading the Scriptures, pausing now and then to prayerfully meditate. All is calm. All is bright. God seems as close as my own breath. I feel enveloped in His loving presence.

Then I go to church on Sunday morning - perhaps even Sunday night! And an untold string of irritating events unfolds. People donít appreciate my work. Several complain. I feel slighted. Anger arises. Pride manifests itself. Then self-pity. God seems more like a battle field. Those emergent writers are right in their warnings about all the hypocrites in the nasty, cold, institutional church.

Now the question. When was I closer to God? When was I more ďspiritual?Ē Saturday night? Or Sunday? Measuring by my feelings, Saturday was the moment of glory. I felt more peace. I slept better. My blood pressure was better. But I wasnít really holier on Saturday night than on Sunday. Itís just that, by myself, in the glow of the family room fire, I had no way of seeing all the pettiness that was brewing deep down inside my own heart. It took all those hypocrites in the church to reveal it. All the pettiness, anger, pride - it was all there on Saturday night. Itís just that I needed the church to show it all to me. The church brought out only what was already on the inside of my heart - like the hot water only brings out what is already in the tea bag.

So Paul and John tell us both sides of the why Godís plan always has been and always will be to sanctify His children through the abusive treatment they can only get when theyíre deeply committed to a flawed congregation. A perfect church is not only impossible, but totally useless for my spiritual growth.

Consider this carefully. Paul says Godís Spirit dwells uniquely in the church. He dwells there uniquely because everywhere else He works smacks of perfection. Godís Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit is perfect. The life of my Lord, Jesus Christ, conceived and filled with the Holy Spirit, was perfect. But the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is anything but perfect. And thatís why, while not perfect in itself, it is the perfect place for my inner life to be tested, revealed, and purified.

John tells us specifically how this process works in local congregations - 1 John 4:10-11 - ďIn this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.Ē

Verse 11 applies verse 10. Here is how the congregation perfects my spiritual life and my love for God. The church is the perfect place to learn the love of God. Apparently we canít learn it in any book. And we canít learn it by deep, peaceful meditation. We are forced to love flawed people the way we have been loved in Christ Jesus with all our flaws - ďBeloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one anotherĒ(4:11). Fine. But how did Jesus love me? The text tells us - ďIn this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sinsĒ(4:10).

I learn the love of God by extending it on the same terms Iíve received it. And here are the terms. He loved me when I didnít love Him. And He loved me by bearing in Himself the whole pain and cost of my wrongdoing. ďNow,Ē says John, ďThatís what youíre called to in that congregation of believers. Many hurt you and are totally at fault. Thatís good. Thatís the perfect place for you to start learning the love of God. And, if things are going to be made right at all, youíre going to have to carry the whole cost and burden of their wrong. Perfect. Now youíre in a position to really grow in Christ in a way your prayer closet alone, and your Bible study alone, never could bring to fruition.

So in case youíve forgotten where this whole point started. It was point number five: the one who would truly know God must keep a loving heart to a specific congregation of Godís people - especially those who wrong him personally. And you must stay in that church in order to cooperate with the maturing work of the Holy Spirit. Itís how committed you are to your local church when you donít like something about it that creates the best opportunity for spiritual growth.

If you leave a church, do it because the teaching is heretical or incomplete. Or do it because parts of your family can receive no ministry there. But not because you donít like the music or nobody smiled at you on Sunday, or somebody said something that hurt you, or you were mistreated by one of the members, or there are too many hypocrites. God want to used all those things to make you more like Jesus Christ.

6) THE ONE WHO WOULD TRULY DESIRE TO KNOW GOD WILL EMPHASIZE PERSONAL SERVICE IN HIS KINGDOM

There is a great, cancerous flaw in much of the current hunger for personal blessing and renewal. It has to do with the motive for the personal touch from God.

The serious seeker after God will quickly learn that this blessed knowledge of God is never bestowed simply to be personally enjoyed. The more we know God, the more we will come to understand that the God who gave to us in the spiritual need of our infancy, longs, as we grow, to give through us to a lost and needy world.

This is a teaching so central and close to the heart of the New Testament that itís almost shocking that it has been missed by so many. Consider the parable of the talents. God gives with only one motive in mind - multiplication in fruitfulness. There are no questions asked about how much each servant enjoyed each talent. There are no questions about how fulfilled each servant felt as he labored for his master. There was only one concern in the heart of the master. How much did each servant gain through the investment of what was entrusted in his stewardship.

ďBut that sounds so hard, pastor Don. It makes the Christian life sound like a pain in the neck. It puts me under so much pressure. What about the joy of the Lord being our strength?Ē

Exactly. Itís the joy of the Lord thatís your strength - and mine. That verse means nothing strengthens my life like bringing joy to my Lord. Thatís what that verse is saying. Itís really not about my joy at all - at least not directly. This is the great surprise of discipleship. You donít find joy by looking for joy. You find joy (and freedom and purpose and blessing to boot) when you forget about yourself and lose your life in dedication to your Lord.

Or you can say the same thing more strongly in the words of Jesus Himself: Mark 8:35 - ďFor whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.ĒThousands of Christians await that discovery - the delightful discovery that you gain more by giving away what God has given. You fill yourself up only by sacrifice. Life comes only through death.

As far as I know, these are the only roads back for the church. Others have been tired and cast aside over the years. Some new trend emerges about every three years. But only these will lead the sincere heart home.