Small Group or Bible Study

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(Hebrews 10:24-25)

INTRODUCTION: Today’s message is the last one in our series on the Challenge and Power of One. We have been focusing on five commitments we can make that will strengthen us as a church. Usually you get the application for a sermon after the sermon, but we got the application for this whole message series before the series ever began!

So today marks the end of the message series, but I pray that it’s just the beginning for these five commitments. Remember, these five commitments are commitments for the year and hopefully will become lifelong habits for many of us after that. Let’s review the five commitments once more briefly:

With God’s help I commit to do the following this year:
   1) Worship one day weekly with my church family;
   2) Serve in one ministry capacity in my church family;
   3) Cultivate one friendship with a non-believer for Christ;
   4) Give one regular portion of my income for the work of the church;
   5) Participate in one regular small group setting for prayer, growth and fellowship.

This morning I want us to look at the practices of prayer, Bible study and fellowship and how important they are to your personal spiritual growth and to our growth as a church. But let’s pray first as we ask God to speak to us through the message this morning. (Read Hebrews 10:24-25 and pray.)

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I read a heartbreaking article a number of years ago about a young girl named Brooke. The article was entitled: “A Child Frozen in Time.” Brooke lived in Maryland at the time with her mother and father and her three sisters. She was the size of a typical six-month-old infant weighing in at 13 lbs and measuring 27 inches in length. The article even had a picture of her. She was a cute little girl. Her mother, Melanie, shared: “She giggles, she laughs, she recognizes her mother, her father, and she loves to be tickled. She loves her sisters.”

The only problem is this. Brooke was not six months old. She was actually twelve years old. For some reason that nobody knows, Brooke stopped growing when she was six months old. The parents first noticed the problem when she was about a year old and she had not grown or matured any further in the past six months. Sadly, Brooke passed away in 2013. She was twenty years old, but her body and mind had never grown larger than a toddler’s. Doctors still don’t know why Brooke never grew. It is a mystery.

There is another mystery with which I am more familiar. And that is the mystery of people in the church who do not grow. John Ortberg in his excellent book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, shares the story about a gentleman named Hank in one of the churches he served. Ortberg calls Hank, “The Man Who Never Changed.” Hank was cranky, irritable, negative, critical, and judgmental. And although Hank went to church all his life, as Ortberg writes, “Hank was not changing. He was once a cranky young guy, and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade . . . The church staff did have some expectations. We expected that Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expected that Hank would attend services . . . and avoid certain sins. But here’s what we didn’t expect: We didn’t expect that he would progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank’s place.” Ortberg goes on to talk about the importance of transformation and growing in Christ-likeness throughout the rest of the book.

So why is it that some people who go to church regularly do not grow in their faith? Why do they stay the same year after year? How is it possible that someone who came to Christ years ago could still be a baby Christian, just an infant in Christ, a child frozen in time just like little Brooke?

Fortunately, unlike with Brooke, we do have an answer to these questions. You see there is another reason why some babies don’t grow, and that is because they are not given proper food or nutrition. If you do not feed a baby, the baby will not grow, and it is the same with a Christian.

Now when I was a kid, when it came to food and nutrition they used to teach us about the four basic food groups – milk and dairy, meat and eggs, fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals. Maybe some of you remember that. Nowadays it’s fancier, they have a whole food pyramid they use, but it used to be the four basic food groups. And the idea was if you wanted to grow physically healthy, you needed to eat a balance from all four groups.

Well, when it comes to spiritual health and growth, I like to talk about the four spiritual food groups. These are prayer, the Bible, fellowship, and sharing your faith. And just like the four basic food groups, if you want to grow spiritually, you need a healthy balance of all four of these elements in your life.

Now we already talked about sharing your faith a couple weeks ago when we looked at making friends for Christ, and so today I want us to focus on these three other essential ingredients for Christian growth. Prayer, Bible study and fellowship are all essential to growing as a Christian and becoming more like Jesus. So, let’s look at these three essential nutrients for Christian growth.

I. Spiritual Food Group #1 – Prayer
   – Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

The first spiritual food group I want us to look at this morning is prayer. Ephesians 6:18 says: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18) 1 Thessalonians 5 says: “Pray continually . . . for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18) Prayer is one of the most basic parts of the Christian life, and yet it also seems to be one of the most challenging aspects. We can all grow in the area of prayer.

You cannot read very far at any point in the Bible without bumping into prayer. Prayer is one of the most important themes of Scripture because it is basic to life with God. Adam and Eve prayed. Cain and Abel prayed. Noah prayed. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob prayed. Moses and Joshua prayed. King David prayed. The priests and the prophets prayed. We even have a whole book of the Bible which is literally a collection of prayers for God’s people – the book of Psalms. It is no different in the New Testament. The gospels and Acts and the letters in the New Testament are all full of prayers and references to prayer.

Jesus made prayer a high priority in both his life and in his teaching. He got up early in the morning to spend time with God in prayer. He prayed over important decisions. He prayed at specific times and places, and then he also prayed spontaneously as various occasions arose throughout the day. He told parables about prayer and taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer as a perfect teaching and example of prayer for all of us.

Prayer is basic to our relationship with God, because communication is basic to any relationship. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone when you do not communicate. And relationship is what Christianity is all about. Christianity is not about a set of rules or regulations or rituals, but Christianity is all about a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Our prayers to God should not be merely a formula or by rote. Prayer should be personal and from the heart. It doesn’t matter to God how eloquent you are or whether you use fancy words or not. He just wants you to talk to him. Tell him about your day or your worries. Thank him for all the wonderful things he has done and is doing in your life. Praise him for his goodness, his power and his love. When you do something wrong, talk to him about it. Confess your sin to him and receive his gracious forgiveness.

Prayer should be as basic to the Christian life as breathing. When you wake up in the morning, greet God first. Say, “Good morning, Lord!” Spend some time with him before you rush into the activities of your day. Talk to him often throughout your day, and when you go to bed, talk to him in the quietness of the night as you fall asleep. One of the reasons Christians do not grow is because they do not pray. And without prayer it is impossible to grow in Christ-likeness, because it is only in prayer that God can constantly renew our minds and do his work of transformation in us.

II. Spiritual Food Group #2 – The Bible
   – Psalm 19:10; Matthew 4:4; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2

The second spiritual food group is the Bible. The Bible is closely related to prayer. In prayer we talk to God. In the Bible God talks to us. The Bible is God’s own word, and if we read it asking to hear from him, God delights to speak to us through its pages.

The Bible often refers to itself as food. 1 Peter 2:2 says: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) The word translated “spiritual” in this verse is related to the word used for the Word of God. You could even translate it this way to include this meaning: “Like newborn babies, crave [the] pure spiritual milk [of God’s Word], so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Just like a newborn infant cannot and will not grow without the nourishment of milk, so also a newborn Christian cannot and will not grow without the pure spiritual milk of God’s word.

The Bible also compares itself to bread. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) Just as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray for our daily physical bread, so also we need our daily spiritual bread if we are to grow strong and healthy as a follower of Christ.

Elsewhere the Bible compares itself to the nourishment of solid food or strong meat (Hebrews 5:12-14), as well as to the sweetness of honey (Psalm 19:10). The Bible is as important to your spiritual life as food is to your physical life.

The Bible is vitally important to your growing in Christ-likeness, because this is one of the primary ways that God renews your mind for transformation. Our sinful minds naturally resist God’s ways and God’s truth. Our minds are literally a battlefield, constantly judging other people, thinking about ourselves and the impressions we make on others, making decisions based on feelings or selfish motives. We constantly need to return to God’s word: reading his word, studying his word, meditating on his word, allowing the truth of his word to straighten out the crooked parts of our thinking, to wash and renew the corruption in our minds.

If you are not often in God’s word, your mind will not be renewed, and if your mind is not renewed, you will not know God’s transforming power in your life. You cannot grow as a Christian unless the Bible is an important part of your daily life.

III. Spiritual Food Group #3 – Fellowship
   – Hebrews 3:13, 10:25

The third spiritual food group is fellowship. Without good Christian fellowship, even the strongest Christian will find it hard to continue to grow in Christ.

Hebrews 3:13 says: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13) This verse contains both a command and a warning. First, we are commanded to encourage each other as Christians on a daily basis. The warning is that if we isolate ourselves from Christian fellowship, we will more easily be deceived by sin and our hearts will harden towards God.

Hebrews 10 also speaks about the importance of fellowship. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

We need to keep meeting together in order to encourage each other and to help each other grow in love and good deeds. If you watch the wildlife channel, then you know that wolves and other predators look for the animal that is separated from the pack. There is strength in numbers, and we need each other to stay strong in the faith and to continue to grow in Christ-likeness.

If you stop to think about it, you will see that it is actually impossible to grow in Christ-likeness when you are in isolation from other believers. That’s because part of growing in Christ-likeness is reaching out in love and service to each other, even as Jesus reached out to us.

This is why the New Testament is full of the “one another” commands:

   – love one another (John 13:34)
   – be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
   – honor one another (Romans 12:10)
   – serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
   – live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)

and so on. There are twenty or so different “one another” commands in the New Testament, and they can only be fulfilled and obeyed in community with one another. We cannot possibly fulfill the “one another” commands of Scripture if we are not in fellowship with “one another.” In fact, that is another one of the “one another” commands itself – to “have fellowship with one another.” (1 John 1:7) We need each other in order to live the Christian life. You cannot grow as a Christian in isolation.

So, Christian fellowship is an essential part of Christian growth. Guess what? The Sunday morning worship service is not the best time to have Christian fellowship with each other. Now I’m not saying that Sunday morning worship is not important. It is vitally important that we come together to worship God and to attend to the preaching of God’s Word. And we do have some fellowship together on Sunday morning. We fellowship with each other even as we worship God together. But if that is the only fellowship we experience as a Christian, then we are missing out on an important part of God’s will for us.

This is why we have small groups and Bible studies at our church. The early church met in small groups, and we try to do the same. Small groups offer a more relaxed atmosphere where people can get to know each other better and truly experience a sense of belonging. Our small groups and Bible studies offer a mixture of prayer, Bible study and fellowship. Hey, what do you know? That’s three of the four spiritual food groups all in one setting!

And that brings us to our fifth and final commitment from the Challenge and Power of One: “With God’s help I commit to participate in one regular small group setting for prayer, growth and fellowship this year.” Let’s talk about this commitment. What does it mean if you decide to make Commitment #5?

Recognizing the importance of Christian fellowship to living the Christian life and growing in Christ, you will commit to getting involved in some type of small group or Bible study this year. Whether it’s a Sunday School class that meets on Sunday mornings, or a Bible study that meets at the church during the week or a small group that meets in somebody’s home, it is essential that you get involved in some type of small group Christian fellowship outside of Sunday morning worship.

We offer a number of small groups and Bible studies that meet on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. You will find them listed in your bulletin each week. We have men’s groups, women’s groups, singles’ groups, mixed groups, kids’ groups, youth groups, prayer groups and Bible studies.

Sunday School is probably the easiest place to get started. You’re already here on a Sunday morning. You don’t have to get dressed a second time to go out. You just need either to come a little bit earlier to catch a class before worship or stay a little bit later to catch a class after worship.

But however you choose to participate, that’s my challenge to you this morning. Commitment #5 says: “With God’s help I commit to participate in one regular small group setting for prayer, growth and fellowship this year.”

CONCLUSION: That’s it. We have now finished our series on the Challenge and Power of One. You will have an opportunity to pray over Commitment #5 in just a minute, but first I would like to close out the series by considering what Plantation Community Church would look like if all of us made and kept all five of these commitments. What difference would it make immediately for us as a church?

Well, as we have seen, with Commitment #1 we would immediately grow from a church of about 250 worshiping together on a Sunday morning to about 400 strong.

With Commitment #2 everyone would have a place of service or ministry in the church, alleviating the burden for those who are doing so much and allowing us to expand ministry into the community.

With Commitment #3 as a church we would intentionally be cultivating friendships for Christ with non-believers. We would be reaching out in genuine friendship, praying for our friends, and seeking to share Christ as God gives us opportunity. In the course of the year we could expect God to answer many of those prayers, and we would joyfully welcome many new believers into God’s kingdom and into the fellowship of our church.

With Commitment #4 our church’s giving would increase significantly, allowing us to further increase our giving to missions while expanding our church ministries here at home as well.

With all these commitments, our church would be growing larger, but with Commitment #5, we would also be growing “smaller” at the same time. Each person would be connected to another group of people in the church for prayer, Bible Study and fellowship. God would use these relationships to encourage each of us in our Christian walk and to help all of us grow in Christ.

For me, that is what the Challenge and Power of One is all about. It represents our immediate potential as a church. In other words, this is who we can be as a church – right now, starting this very week! – if we all made and kept these five commitments. And if that is who we can be right now, only God knows what great plans he will fulfill through us in the years to come.

I wrote you all a letter at the beginning of this series. In that letter I wrote these words: “I love Plantation Community Church and believe that we can truly achieve God’s purposes for us as a church. But only as each one of us commits to the task at hand! Will you accept the challenge?”

The challenge has now been laid out before you. I pray that you will take up the Challenge and Power of One, and that God will bless us mightily as we increase our commitment to him as a church.

© Ray Fowler

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