October 4, 2009

A Different Kind of Christian

Part 3—Grow

 

Opening:

ILL: One critic said he had gone to many churches and heard the preacher say, “Don’t try to impress God with your works” or “Don’t try to keep the rules and regulations and earn your way to heaven.” He looked around at all the half-hearted, indifferent, casual Christians and wondered, “Who’s trying?”

We need to be a different kind of Christian. I’m not suggesting that we try to earn our way to heaven. Thank God, He’s taken care of that—we’re saved by His grace, not our goodness. But I do think we need to be trying—putting out the effort that any serious Christian would to grow and become what God wants us to be. That’s what we’re talking about today.

 

Offering and announcements:

The Hole in Our Gospel (back of tear-off)

Do you have your copy of the book yet? If not, stop by the Info Center and pick one up. The first one per household is free, additional are $7/book. The reading plan is on the back; we start this series in two weeks, so get cracking!

Life Group sign-ups today. If you haven’t filled out this form, we’ll give an opportunity later during my talk. We need you to complete and turn in the forms today at the white cart in the Commons or at the Info Center. This is just a 5-week test drive, so take a spin with The Hole in Our Gospel.

Men’s breakfast on Saturday morning at 8:30, Bobby Moore is speaking (item #5)

Ministry as a Lifestyle—four week class begins next Sunday at 9 AM (item #1), no need to pre-register, just show up!

 

Introduction:

In this series, “A Different Kind of Christian”, we’re walking through our four guiding purposes as a church. To make these four things memorable, we use four one-syllable words. What are they? Love, win, grow, send.

• Love God and people.

• Win our friends to Christ.

• Grow into all God wants us to be.

• Send all of us to do God’s work in a broken world.

The first Sunday we talked about our first and highest purpose which is to love God with all we’ve got and to love people. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment, and the most important thing we can do.

Last Sunday we read the Great Commission: “Make disciples of all nations. As you go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them.” And I did some high class artwork on the blackboard. (Redo it.) Last Sunday, we talked about the front end of this, the “win” piece, helping our friends come to faith in Jesus. When we help someone come to faith in Jesus, our work is not over; it’s only begun. Now we have to help them follow Jesus whole-heartedly, and grow to become all God wants them to be. That’s this second half: grow. It takes both halves to make a disciple: win and grow. So we’re going to talk about the importance of spiritual growth and how we grow.

 

1. The importance of spiritual growth.

On your outline, the introduction sentence reads: To be a different kind of Christian, we need to be growing spiritually, steadily becoming all God wants us to be.” What do I mean by spiritual growth? I mean:

• Your relationship with God is growing. Your love for God is increasing. You are following Jesus more closely.

• Your character is becoming more like Jesus. You are becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.

• Your relationships with people are becoming more healthy. You are loving people more consistently and deeply. You are becoming a better spouse, parent, sibling, son or daughter, friend, neighbor, and coworker.

• Your influence is growing as you use what God gave you to serve others and make a difference in a broken world.

(Go through these and ask who wants to be like this.) This is what I mean by growing spiritually; this is functional maturity for a Christian. Each of these can be broken down in many sub-points. For example, part of growing in our relationship with God would be growing in our understanding of the Bible, and applying it to our lives. Or learning how to talk with God in prayer. This is what a mature believer looks like.

That’s what I mean by spiritual growth; why is it so important?

Jesus used an interesting phrase to describe the beginning of the Christian life. He said we must be born again. It’s in John 3. When you become a Christian, you are born again; you come alive spiritually and start a brand new life. When you are born again, spiritually, you are a baby—a new born!

ILL: Let’s see the hands of all the parents. You’ve had a baby. What do we expect our babies to do? Grow! If a baby doesn’t grow physically or mentally as it should, there is a problem. We’re concerned; we go to the doctor; tests are done; something is wrong if the baby is not growing, not developing.

Growth is normal and expected. A baby grows to a toddler, to a pre-schooler, to a grade schooler, to a junior high schooler, to a high schooler, and in the case of females, to a young adult. We males often get stuck about junior high! (This is why when I was playing golf with two adult men in our church this week, and I ripped a loud one when I hit a drive, they cracked up. Boys.) Growth is normal. We grow and develop.

The same is true spiritually. You begin your Christian life as a spiritual infant, but if you stay there, something is wrong. Growth is normal; if you’re not growing, something is wrong. You can see this in several of the passages I cited on your outline. Two examples:

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

Paul is scolding the Corinthian Christians for their immaturity, their failure to grow. They were worldly or carnal, not spiritual. They were “mere infants in Christ”; they still needed milk, not solid food. Why is Paul scolding them? Because growth is normal, and they weren’t growing. They were behaving like infants, and it was causing lots of trouble in the church.

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…

Same thing. The author is chewing out these Christians because they’re not growing. They’re still infants, still need milk, not solid food. They are slow to learn. “Let’s go on to maturity,” he says. Let’s grow up!

Clearly, God expects us to grow up, not stay spiritual babies.

Think of it this way: What are the alternatives to growing? We can grow, stay the same, or shrink. We can progress, maintain, or regress. We can go forward, stay where we are, or go backwards. We can swim, tread water, or sink. In my experience, people don’t tread water very long. We either swim or sink. We either grow or start dying inside. Jesus told a parable about seeds landing on different types of soil, and explained it like this.

Luke 8:11-15 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The seed is God’s word, God’s message, the gospel. Jesus describes four different responses.

• Some people reject it. Their hearts are hard and the seed never takes root.

• Some people accept it joyfully, but don’t last. Their response is shallow and they give up when it gets tough.

• Some people accept it, but end up getting choked by the weeds, and they never mature.

• Some people accept it, keep it, and grow and produce a crop.

Jesus lists four alternatives; which one do you want to be? The other three are not good; I want to be that fourth one; that means I have to keep growing.

We need to be a different kind of Christian—a growing Christian. I say that because too many Christians are stuck and not growing. Churches are filled with baby Christians, carnal Christians, worldly Christians, stunted Christians, consumer Christians, selfish Christians, stuck Christians…we want to change that and help you become Christ-like Christians! God wants you to grow!

Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

This is the goal: to become mature—attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We want to become like Jesus. If you stick around here, we’re going to do everything we can to help you grow and become all God wants you to be.

Colossians 1:28-29 So we continue to preach Christ to each person, using all wisdom to warn and to teach everyone, in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature person in Christ. 29 To do this, I work and struggle, using Christ’s great strength that works so powerfully in me. (NCV)

This is what we’re trying to do when we say one of our guiding purposes is to grow.

God wants you to keep growing. How do we do it.

 

2. How do we grow spiritually?

We do five things that help us grow in Christ. We call them: meet, seek, serve, give, share. Let’s say those together: meet, seek, serve, give, share. I’m going to give you a quick explanation of each one, and as I do, I want you to think about which ones you’re doing, and what you’re not. Then we’re going to figure out our next step.

 

Meet together in church and Life Groups. We put this first for a reason. What’s the first thing a new baby needs? Milk? Diapers? A family. You can roll a fridge full of formula into the nursery and the baby will starve to death. The baby needs a family to feed it, change it, and care for it.

A new Christian’s first need is a family. You need some people who will show you how to follow Jesus and help you do it.

ILL: I accepted Jesus after a Saturday night youth rally, walking home by myself. I knew nothing about being a Christian—except for one thing. I knew that I should go to church the next morning. So I did, and it was the best thing I could have done. Had I stayed home and just read my Bible alone, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple weeks. I went to church—and it was an imperfect church, just like every other one, and this wonderful, imperfect group of Christians at Sweet Home Church of Christ took me in and loved me and taught me how to follow Jesus.

This is first. We need each other to grow. Christianity is a team sport; we do it together, not alone.

We meet here at church for worship and teaching. And we meet in Life Groups for friendship and to grow by discussing and applying what we’re learning. To grow we need all those things: worship, teaching, friendship, discussion and application. That’s why we need both big church and little church, what happens here and what happens in homes, coffee shops, work places and schools all over town. There are lots of you who are still not in a Life Group, and you’re missing out on a big opportunity to grow.

ILL: I was talking with a friend this week—he’s a pastor—and he told me that the small groups in his church don’t have any traction. I asked why and he said that he hates small groups. Well, that’ll do it! Then he went on to tell me with genuine excitement about his journaling group: four buddies that he meets with each week and they share from their journals what God is saying to them as they read the Bible and what they’re doing about it. “Fantastic,” he told me.

I asked him, “What do you like about your journaling group?”

“They’re my friends. I love hanging out with them.”

“That’s exactly what makes a good Life Group.” I explained to him that the best groups are those who are friends. You either start a group with your friends, or you become friends over time. But if you’re not friends, you won’t stick with it. You’ll start thinking, “Why am I hanging out with these people? I’d rather hang out with my friends.”

How many of you like hanging out with your friends? That’s what a good Life Group is…with a twist. We hang out with our friends for the purpose of spiritual growth—to help each other grow.

If you’re not in a Life Group, we’re going to give you a great chance to try one. You can sign up for a “test drive” for the five weeks of The Hole in Our Gospel. Most people who go to a group for 5 weeks make friends and stick with it. Some don’t. If the friendships don’t click, try another group. It’s ok. We’re going to give you a couple minutes to fill out the Life Group form in your program. Please put down your top three choices. Afterwards, I’ll remind you to turn these in at the Info Center or the Life Groups cart in the Commons.

Sign up time: play some music.

Church and Life Groups are the two main ways we meet. But we also offer lots of great classes, and lots of other group opportunities. We do this together. That’s meet and it’s first. Is that your next step to grow? Meet, seek…

 

Seek God in daily prayer, Bible reading and journaling.

There is the corporate element to spiritual growth, and then there is the personal element. You’ve got to invest some personal time in spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are practices designed to connect you with God and help you grow.

ILL: If you decided you wanted to run a marathon, what would you do? You don’t just go out and run 26.2 miles. You train.

If you decide to try downhill skiing, what do you do? You get in shape, take some lessons, and practice.

If you decide to learn how to play the piano, what do you do? You take lessons and practice.

Success in any endeavor is determined by what you put into it. You have to practice; you have to train.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 …train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Train yourself to be godly. There are many different spiritual disciplines, and we’ve done series of talks on them—most recently, in 2007 a series called “The Life You’ve Always Wanted.”

We have a basic level of training that we do call PBJ: prayer, Bible reading and journaling. This is what we do in a daily time with God. Each day, I read my Bible. I use the Bible reading plan that you received the last couple weeks—you can pick those up at the Info Center, or they’re on our website. I read the Bible reading for the day, and I ask God to speak to me, to give me one thing for that day. Just one! Usually there are lots of interesting things…but I want one that I can remember and do. So I ask God for one thing, and then I write that in my journal and pray it back to God. And if it’s something I can do, I try to do it that day. I talked about this in more depth last year in a series called “Only One Thing.”

Here’s the big deal: you are meeting with God! This isn’t just something you do to cross off your list. You’re meeting with God! The point is to connect with God. Some days I have to hurry through my time with God. It’s always better if I can slow down and listen and be thoughtful. I try to ask myself at the end, “Have I connected with God?” If I haven’t, I’m not done. The point is to connect with God.

Many of the biggest changes in my life have come from these daily times with God. They are indispensible. I don’t know a growing Christian who isn’t training. Please, make time in your life to seek God. Is that your next step to grow?

Meet, seek, serve…

 

Serve others in our church, community and the world.

One of the most critical pieces of growth is serving others. When we roll up our sleeves and serve God and people, we not only help them, but great things happen in us. We grow when we serve. We get beyond ourselves. We do what God made us to do. We grow when we serve.

God has given each one of you gifts and abilities that He wants you to use to serve others.

1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

You are to use whatever gift you have received to serve others. God has given you gifts. Why? To serve others. Those abilities you have—those talents—God gave you those so that you could use them to serve others. Who should serve? Each one! Each one of you.

Let me give you a couple serving ideas.

First, everyone should serve in their church. We’re a family, and in a family, everyone pitches in. This will never be your church until you serve. It’s different for everyone. Some people serve multiple times a week, some once a week, some once a month, some a few times a year. But if you don’t serve at all, you’re just a consumer, not a member. We need you.

Second, everyone should serve in their community and in our world. For most of us, our primary place of service won’t be the church. Your primary place of service will be in the community. It could be in your neighborhood, on your job, at your kids’ school, at a food or clothing bank, coaching your kids’ teams, working with the needy. It can happen in hundreds of ways. For most of us, it will happen very naturally.

ILL: I know some ladies in our church who have been helping refugees get settled in Spokane. How did they get into this? Through their kids’ school, they met a refugee family and just started helping.

God will present opportunities for you to use your gifts to serve others. We’re going to talk more next week about opportunities to serve our world.

Bottom line: you need to serve to grow. Serving is to your spirit what exercise is to your body. I think serving is especially important for veteran Christians who know a lot but don’t do much with it. It’s time to put all that stuff you’ve learned to work.

Serve: Is that your next step to grow?

Meet, seek, serve, give…

 

Give to God’s work in our church and to the poor.

Like serving, giving is one of those things that gets us beyond ourselves. “A person all wrapped up in himself is a pretty small package.” It’s true. As long as we’re wrapped up in ourselves, we stay small. When we get beyond ourselves, we start to grow. And giving does that. If I spend it all on myself, I stunt my growth. If I give to God and others, I grow.

In the Old Testament, the starting point for giving was the tithe. The Jews brought the first 10% of their income to God, and then gave offerings beyond that. In the New Testament, we’re told to be generous, and the early church considered the tithe the starting point; generosity was going beyond that! So in the Bible, it was 10% plus.

Today, American Christians give about 2% of their income to their church. Of that, only 2% ends up going to the poor. 2% of 2%. We are the richest church in history, and we give 2% of 2% to the poor. Contrast that with the example of the Macedonian church in:

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

This is a church that got beyond itself. Give and you grow. Is that your next step to grow?

Meet, seek, serve, give, share.

 

Share your faith with your friends.

We talked about this last week. Our mission is to make disciples: win and grow. When you do the mission, you grow.

When you share your faith, your faith grows stronger. When you help someone else find and follow Jesus, you follow Jesus better. There is nothing more energizing or exciting than knowing that God is using you to help another person find Him and follow Him.

Are you practicing find, tell, bring? Find someone you love, tell them what you know, bring them with you to church. Are you helping others find and follow Jesus? Is that your next step to grow?

 

Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to circle up with 3 or 4 people and each of you share: What is your next step to grow your faith? Which of these five things do you need to do next to accelerate your growth?