Either Growing, or…
Now that the weather is warmer, and the rains have started, everything has started growing again – rapidly. I’m enjoying my bonsai trees – as they are sprouting new growth and blooming. But, I’m also daily weeding and trimming, just to keep everything under control.
Growth is what plants are supposed to do. In fact, every living thing is intended, by God, to grow – including us. There’s a famous saying, “You’re either growing, or dying.”
Seasons, water, temperature, fertilizer can make a plant grow. But, what about humans? What causes us to grow?
Love, Grow, Serve, Share…
Let me pause, and change gears, just for a moment. Last week, I talked about the importance of having a God-given vision for a church to have a clear sense of purpose and direction. As we seek, at First Church, to discern what the vision is, last week I focused on the one thing that Jesus said must be our top priority – loving God and loving each other.
A number of years ago, before I arrived here, and even before Pastor Alex arrived, First Church adopted four themes to order and structure our ministries – Love, Grow, Serve and Share.
- “Love” includes most of the ministries related to the Sunday morning worship experience – ushers, greeters, hospitality, welcome. “Love” also includes are visitor follow up, and our congregational care.
- “Grow” includes all of our small group and Bible study opportunities.
- “Serve” includes all of our service and mission to the community and the world.
- “Share” includes all of the ways that we share the message of the Gospel with the world, as well as our ministries of invitation to First Church.
It seems to me that, while “Love” is the name of one of the four ministry areas, “love,” as Jesus defines and commands it, must undergird, motivate and support everything single thing we do as a church. Thus, the theme – “We Love First.” Today, I want us to think about how love stimulates, motivates, generates growth. In other words, “Love grows”
A definition of the word, “growth,” is “progressive development.” We were created for progressive development. During the early stage of our life, that growth is primarily physical and learning basic life skills. But, even into adulthood, we are made to continue to generate new growth – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, relationally. Though we may stop growing physically at some point, we still have the capacity for progressive development until we die. We never lose the ability to learn something new, to develop a new skill, to have new experiences, to build new relationships.
The old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is stupid and false.
Today, I am focusing particularly on spiritual growth.
Eugene Peterson writes, “The most significant growing up that any person does is to grow as a Christian. All other growing up is a preparation for or ancillary to this growing up. The human task is to become mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and minds within ourselves, but also in our relationship with God and other persons.”
I want to suggest today that the greatest stimulant for that kind of growth is love. When I love something or someone, I tend to grow. Let me give you examples…
Because I love my wife, I have strived for the 26 years of our marriage to become the best husband I can be for her. I still have quite a bit growing to do!
As a father, because I love my children, I always strived to do better and to better understand their needs from me.
I love being a pastor, and because I want to be a good pastor I am still actively learning and growing, so that I can fulfill my calling as faithfully as possible. I read books on leadership and ministry. I go to workshops and seminars to improve my knowledge and skills.
Because I love Jesus, with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I read his Word every day, I pray, and I read spiritual and theological books, so that I can know him and serve him better; so that I can be mature; so that I can be more faithful; so that I can be more like him.
Let me ask you a question. What do you love? Who do you love? How has that love inspired you to grow? Has it inspired you to grow?
A farmer went out to plant some seeds…
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the story of a farmer, who went out to plant seeds. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:3-8)
Later, Jesus says that the seed is the “message of the kingdom.” The obvious point of this parable is that God’s Word is intended to penetrate us, to grow in and through us, and to produce a great harvest. The point, obviously, is growth.
This theme is repeated throughout Scripture. Jeremiah said that we are to “like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream… and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8) Jesus said that he is like a grapevine, and we are like branches. Paul said that we are to develop the “Fruits of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And, Paul described his work as an Apostle saying, “I planted the seed… but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
Only God makes things grow. So, what is our role? I believe our job, if we love Jesus, is to be eager to receive the Word, and to be completely receptive.
Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of the parable, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time… The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it.” (Matthew 13:19-23)
The seed that falls on the path are the people who hear the Word, but are unreceptive. The Word does not penetrate. Let’s assume, for today, that’s not any of us.
The seed that falls on rocky soil are people who hear the Word, receive the Word, but never let it to sink in below the surface. It never develops roots. This could be some of us.
The seed that falls among thorns are the people who hear the Word, receive the Word, but don’t take proper care to avoid the distractions and temptations of life that can choke it out before it develops, grows and matures. This could be some of us, too.
Then, the seed that falls on the good earth, that receives the seed and produces a harvest many times greater than what was sown are the people who hear the Word, receive the Word, and eagerly allow it room to grow. This is who we were created to be. This is who we have the capacity for being. This is what God calls and expects us to be.
God’s intent for human life is growth and fruitfulness. Jesus said, “The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13:23)
Our fruitfulness includes…
- Development of Spiritual Gifts and the Fruits of the Spirit
- Discerning God’s purpose for each of our lives and serving
- Knowledge and understanding of God’s Word
- A growing capacity to love
- A life that looks and sounds more and more like Jesus
Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu says, “You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”
As Christians, we never stop growing!
Ways to grow…
Let me suggest four ways love can motivate us to be eager and receptive for growth. They all, by coincidence, start with “S.”
The first “S” is for “Scripture.” You simply can’t know God without knowing his Word.
The second “S” is for “Study.” Reading the Bible is one thing. It’s good. But, study takes more effort. Go to a Bible study. Buy a Study Bible, with notes. Read the books I suggest.
The third “S” is for “Serve,” which I will be talking about next week. When you serve others, you develop new skills, you see new things, you hear new things, you interact with different people. You might even find you love people you didn’t think you could love.
Finally, the fourth “S” is for “Someone different than you.” More than anything else, I’ve grown from knowing and loving people who are different than me; people who are more liberal, or conservative; people with different life experiences; people from different cultures; people who are LGBT; people who are more educated, and less; people who work in different professions; people who are older and younger; people of other faiths; etc. Our capacity to love is far greater than most of us know – including people who are very different than we are. Loving people who are different than you is a gift to them and to you, and an opportunity for growth.
Earlier, I said that love is the best stimulant for growth. Let me take that a step further. How can we actually say that we love something or someone if we aren’t growing? How can I say I love my wife, children, or friends, if I am not growing to be a better husband, father, or friend? How can I say I love being a pastor if I am not growing to become a better one? How can I say I love Jesus, if I am not eager and receptive to receive whatever growth he wants from me?
So, what do you love?
Who do you love?
How are you growing?