|Growing | Growing With God|
|July 31, 2010|
Part 1 of 2 | August 01, 2010
Our sincere apologies. Audio from this week's sermon is unavailable.
Welcome to a brand new series called ďGrowing.Ē Man, itís good to be back in the saddle. I havenít preached for a solid month. So I hope you all donít have any lunch plans today because Iíve got a monthís worth of preaching to catch up on.
Seriously, it is great to get back to preaching. There is no church on earth like our church. I love this church with everything thatís in me. And I think weíve already seen this morning that God is just getting started here. The best is yet to come. We have barely scratched the surface of what God really wants to do in our church and through our church. And thatís why Iím so pumped to be back preaching again. There has never been a better time to be part of ACC than right now.
The vision of our church is simple. Connecting, Growing, and Serving. Our vision is to connect people to God and to others. To help them grow with God and grow with others. And to empower them to serve God and serve others. Simple.
Today, weíre kicking off a series about the second step in our vision. Growing. Weíre going to be in Matthew 4 today. Letís pray and then weíll get into the Word.
ďAs Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.Ē (Matthew 4:18-20, NIV)
These verses tell about the beginning of a small group. This is how Jesus started to compile His group of disciples. When this group was fully constructed, it had 1 leader (Jesus) and 12 group members (the disciples).
Isnít it interesting that Jesus kept the number so small? Small doesnít really jive with our western mindset. We donít value small. We like big. We chase after big. We think bigger = better.
Why get a small order of fries when you can biggie size it? Why settle for a small TV when you can get a big, widescreen TV? We live in a ďgo big or go homeĒ world.
This type of thinking even creeps into the church. In our mindset, bigger must mean better. A bigger attendance, bigger budget, bigger building all equal a better church.
Donít get me wrongÖif we arenít adding people to the Kingdom, we are completely missing the point. If we arenít growing in generosity and giving, then we are wrong.
But the fact remains that just because something is bigger doesnít automatically mean that itís better.
Seth Godin wrote about an interesting phenomenon that has taken place in our culture. In many ways, small is the new big.
Big computers are silly. They use lots of power and are not nearly as efficient as smaller machines. In fact, this is the computer that I use everyday. (show my laptop) You couldnít have even imagined a computer this small a few years ago. And now, by todayís standards, this is not small anymore.
Big boom boxes have been replaced by tiny iPods. Remember those boom boxes? Or maybe you called them ghetto blasters. Remember those? When I was a kid, people used to hike these massive things up on their shoulders and jam out. Now, people simply put in their earbuds and fire up their iPod that fits in their pocket.
Our culture has started to recognize that there is value in small. But itís something that God has known all along.
Jesus said, ďFor where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.Ē (Matthew 18:20, NIV)
Two or three. Not two or three thousand. Not even two or three hundred. Two or three. Our God, who is bigger than we could ever imagine, values the small. No one is too small for Him to notice. And when two or three get together, it is so significant to Him that He shows up personally.
There are a lot of CEOs that wonít waste their time meeting with two or three peopleÖbut the God of the universe does. He states it as a categorical guarantee. When two or three come together in my nameÖBOOM!..there I am.
Look at the way The Message paraphrase says it. ďAnd when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there.Ē (Matthew 18:20, The Message)
When you gather with other believers, you can be sure that Jesus will show up. When a small group of believers comes together, God is there. You donít have to ask Him to be there. You donít have to pray for Him to show up. He has already promised that He will.
Thatís why small groups are so highly valued in our church. When we launched our vision of Connecting, Growing, and Serving, we knew that God had big plans for that second step in our vision: growing. His big plan was for us to go small. To launch a ministry of small groups.
Our small groups exist to help our church grow with God and grow with others. Today weíre going to explore how we can grow with God in our small groups. And then next week, Brian will be teaching and heíll talk about how God wants us to grow with others in our small groups.
When you think back through the significant moments of your life, what do you find? Those moments that are memorable and joyful and fulfilling probably happened with a small group of people. This isnít always the case, but for most of us, more often than not, itís true. The truly significant, fulfilling moments of your life didnít happen in a crowd. It happened in the context of a small group of people.
I know thatís true for me. My best memories from college are from the times that I spent with my small group of friends. I remember yelling at each other while playing Golden Eye or Mario Kart on our Nintendo 64. Trips to Applebeeís at 11:00 pm to get half priced appetizers. I could bore you all day long with those kind of memories. You donít care about those memories, but they are special to me. And they all happened when I was in a small group of friends.
When I think back to the spiritually significant moments in my life, this principle still holds true. Iíve attended more conferences and conventions than I could ever remember. Thousands of people are there. Itís energizing and inspiringÖbut the true moments of spiritual growth and change in my life happened with a much smaller group.
Some of our high school students went to a Christ In Youth MOVE conference a couple of weeks ago. I went to these conferences every year when I was in youth ministry. And it was awesome. Itís amazing to be in a room with thousands of people where the band is rocking. People are worshipping. The speakers are incredible. Itís an unbelievable environment where you feel the Spirit of God moving.
But if you asked our teens about when they were truly changed, most of them would tell you that it wasnít in the big room with the loud music and the great speakers. It was in the time they spent with just their youth group. In the context of that small group is where lives are truly changed. The big environment is challenging and energizing and inspiringÖbut life change happens in a small group.
I have seen this principle played out over and over again in my lifeÖlife change happens best in a small group.
We live in an age where people compete to see who can have the most friends on Facebook or the most followers on Twitter. But most of that is all peripheral. Itís all fluff. Most of those relationships, at best, are surface level.
Life change happens in small groups.
Go back and look at the Scripture we opened with today. ďAs Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.Ē (Matthew 4:18-20, NIV)
The first people that Jesus targeted for his small group of disciples were fisherman. In fact, Jesus went on to call James and John right after this. Both of them were also fisherman. So the first four disciples were all fishermen.
Now, you would think that if you were constructing a group to literally change the world, you would go after the best of the best. You would want the most educated, the most gifted, the most talented people you could find. You would want people with connections, people who have a great reputation, people who can get stuff done. You would want the cream of the crop, the best of the best.
Jesus called fisherman. In this culture, fishermen were uneducated common folk. Hard workers, but pretty rough around the edges. You would never choose these guys for this kind of world-changing group. They cussed too much. They drank too much. Most people just wouldnít pick them.
But Jesus is not most people. These were exactly the people that He wanted in His group. And by the way, it got worse after this. Jesus called Matthew, who was a tax collector. He was a cheater, a liar, and a swindler.
Then later, He called Paul, who was busy being a murderer at the time. Killing Christians just because they were Christians.
Most modern-day Christians wouldnít even associate with the people that Jesus called into His group. How pathetic is that?
But Jesus was fearless in His call. He looked straight at some dirty, smelly, rough, nobody fishermen and said, ďFollow me.Ē But thatís not all He said.
He said, ďFollow me, and Iíll make you fishers of men. Follow me, and Iíll change your priorities. Follow me, and Iíll change your heart. Follow me, and Iíll change your mission. Follow me, and Iíll change your life.Ē
He didnít pick the best of the best. He chose people who needed to be changed. And He chose them because He knew that, in the context of this small group, He could effectively lead them to become people who would change the landscape of this world forever.
Life change happens best in a small group. Your connection to God, your love for Him, your desire to serve Him, all grows exponentially in the context of a small group.
For most of us, this group right here (Sunday morning worship service) is the group that we use to grow with God. Coming to church, being part of a corporate worship service, is how we hope to grow with God.
And it happens. Spiritual growth does happen here. Discipleship does happen here. But itís not the best place for it to happen. Itís not the most effective place for it to happen.
In our vision, the Sunday morning worship service is where you will connect with God. You will be energized and inspired. You will be challenged. You will connect with God.
But, in many ways, to deepen that connection requires a smaller group.
Think about it this way. When you go to the gym, do you want a trainer or do you want a partner?
A lot of people pay professional trainers to help them get in shape. Thereís nothing wrong with that. Maybe that works for you.
A lot of other people prefer to find a partner. A friend who will go to the gym with them.
Think about the key difference. A trainer tells you what to do and watches you do it. A partner does it alongside you.
In the typical church model, the professional trainer is the pastor. He is hired to do all the ministry for all the people.
When theyíre sick, heís supposed to come see them and pray for them.
When they need advice, heís supposed to counsel them.
When theyíre not doing well spiritually, heís supposed to magically know about it, and help them get back in the game.
Heís a trainer who tells them what to do. But how many people can he actually sustain? Eventually his ability to serve as personal trainer for every member will exhaust itself. It will become the chief limiting factor in the growth of the church.
In a very real way, a church wonít grow with the trainer model. As your pastor, I canít be everywhere. I canít do everything. If our church has to be kept at a number where I can train everyone, then Iíve got some bad newsÖwe are already too big. It has already surpassed what I can do.
Thatís why small groups are so critical. Because, instead of a trainer, you get into a group with partners. People who are messed up, just like you. People who are broken, just like you. People who love Jesus, but are struggling to live for Him in every area of their livesÖjust like you.
I can train you on Sunday mornings. Itís important. Actually, itís essential. The Bible commands it. But, at the same time, I can only take you so far. If you really want to grow with God, you need some partners. You need to be in a small group.
Every once in a while, someone will say, ďIím just not being fed here anymore.Ē This is one of the most often-heard criticisms of any church. If thatís youÖif youíre sitting in this room thinking, ďIím just not getting as much out of this church as I used to,Ē let me ask you a question: have you joined a small group? You canít expect our Sunday morning services to do what our small groups are designed to do. You have connected, but now you need to move on to the next step in our vision. Itís time to plug into a small group so you can continue growing.
Maybe youíre just checking out our church. You havenít decided that this is where God is calling you to plug in. First of all, weíre stoked that youíre here. And secondly, we know that not all of you are going to stay here. No one church is the right church for everyone. Itís possible that God is calling you to a different church. But before you make that determination, hereís my challenge to you: join a small group. If you really want to experience the lifeblood of our church, youíve got to experience it with a small group of people.
The sign ups for our fall semester of small groups starts today. And I will unapologetically say that we want everyone in a group. Whatís the requirements to be in a group? Nothing more than what Jesus required.
He didnít require a spotless past. He didnít require a perfect present. He didnít require someone to have everything all figured out.
He allowed people into His group who were carrying a lot of junk. A lot of baggage. A lot of doubts. A lot of sin.
The only thing He required was this: Follow me. That was the requirement to be in His group. Follow me.
And thatís the requirement to be in our groups. Youíve got to be willing to be part of group that, together, will grow in their followship. In the church, we talk a lot about discipleship. But when you boil it down, discipleship is really followship. Itís all about following Jesus where He wants you to go.
A complete knowledge of the Bible isnít required. Following is. A stellar prayer life isnít required. Following is. Perfection isnít required. Following is.
Jesus met His group right where they were. He grew them into the disciples that He wanted them to be. It wasnít easy. It wasnít fast. And it wasnít without incident.
If youíve ever read the story of Jesusí life, you know that His group of followers seemed to get it wrong more often than they got it right. But the one thing they never stopped doing was following. And eventually, they grew into world-changing, gospel-preaching, Scripture-writing disciples.
But youíve got to remember that this is where they finished. Itís not where they started. Too many of us want to get to the finish line before we get started. It makes no sense, but I hear it all the time.
I canít come to church. Iím too messed up.
I canít be baptized. Let me get my life cleaned up first. Then Iíll do it.
Iíve got too many doubts. Iím skeptical about all this Jesus stuff. Thereís no way the church would accept me as I am.
I canít be in a small group. Let me learn some stuff and get my junk straightened out first.
Thatís like claiming that you canít start a race until you reach the finish line. It makes no sense. Itís crazy.
Youíve got to be willing to start where you are. Get real about it. Get honest about it. Scott Hodge challenged us about that in the last message in our One Prayer series last week. Get real about where you are and start there.
I will personally guarantee that you will be welcomed into a small group just as you are. Start where you are and let Jesus take you where He wants you to be.
Listen to what the Bible says in Jeremiah 18. ďThis is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : ďGo down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.Ē So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel.
But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD.
"Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.Ē (Jeremiah 18:1-6, NIV)
God purposefully sent Jeremiah to a potterís house so He could give him a visual illustration. Jeremiah saw that potter working at his wheel, but the pot he was shaping wasnít coming together. So the potter changed course and shaped a different pot.
Thatís when God told Jeremiah, ďI do the same thing. My people are clay and I am the potter. I can shape them into anything I like. If I donít like what is being shaped, I can change it.Ē
Thatís what happens in our small groups. A bunch of unspectacular, ordinary lumps of clay get together, and together they begin to be shaped by the hand of God.
It takes time. Itís not fast. Itís not easy. But ultimately, God will do His work. He will shape you and lead you and grow you into the person that He created you to be.
The only question is are you willing? Are you willing to be available clay? Are you willing to make yourself available for God to grow you? Are you willing to give it a shot, to join a small group and for the next 8-12 weeks, make yourself available?
God doesnít need you to be perfect. He doesnít need you to be completely free from doubt. He doesnít need you to have all you junk together. What He needs is for you to be available.
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