MERGE - PART 1
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, October 20, 2019.
Today, we start a new teaching series called MERGE. Merge is our spiritual growth engine designed to help all of us take concrete steps towards spiritual maturity. If the Cornerstone were a car, then Merge would be the engine that powers us up and moves us forward.
Here's where we're headed today: First, I want to give you an overview of Merge. I want you to know what it is and what it can do for you. Then, I want to dive into what spiritual growth is and why it matters. Finally, I want to explore one action step everyone needs to take: Connect to Christ.
WHAT IS MERGE?
Merge is an organized system designed to help each of us to identity and take our next step towards spiritual maturity. Joe and I have been working on this for weeks and we decided to call it MERGE because it helps us merge our lives with Christ and his mission.
Joe and I are still working on all the details, but soon we will have a Merge card for everyone with every step on it and you will be able to check your progress and know exactly what your next step should be. Then Joe and I will be available to help you. We're developing plans and resources to help everyone take their next steps.
Our goal is that 100% of us will merge our lives with Christ and his mission. We will all grow spiritually to full maturity as Jesus-followers.
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL GROWTH?
Spiritual growth is spiritual. Yes, what we do matters, but the key factor is what the Holy Spirit does in us to progressively transform us. If we try to grow without the Holy Spirit, then we'll burn out and quit.
Here's how I define spiritual growth: "It is the long-term process by which we become more like Jesus Christ in our character and conduct." I got my definition from the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:19:
Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.” (NLT)
Spiritual growth is the process by which Christ is "fully developed" in our lives. The goal of spiritual growth is Christ-like character and conduct. A fully mature follower of Jesus thinks, speaks, and acts like Jesus.
The good news about spiritual growth is that Jesus helps us throughout the process. I learned this principle from the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:28:
He (Jesus) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
That passage taught me that our connection to Jesus - "IN Christ" - is what makes spiritual growth possible. He is the source of spiritual life that leads to spiritual growth. And he is also the goal of spiritual life since full maturity is IN Christ. He is the one who forms us into his likeness.
Merge is designed to help you connect with Jesus as the source of your spiritual life and then to continue in Christ until he is fully developed in you. If you follow the steps, you'll eventually see the results.
Before we talk about the first major step in Merge, I want to share why spiritual growth matters.
WHY FOCUS ON SPIRITUAL GROWTH?
There are two reasons why spiritual growth is of such central importance to all of us:
First, shallow faith will fail when life gets hard or something shinier comes along. Jesus told a parable about seed planted in four different soils and, to make a long story short, the soils represent levels of spiritual maturity and the seed represents God speaking to us. Listen to part of what Jesus said:
(Matthew 13:20-21) "The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away."
If your faith is shallow it is unstable. The best thing you can do for your own spiritual wellbeing is to get on the Growth Track to spiritual growth and maturity.
Secondly, shallow faith will fail to produce the full life God offers us. For example, if my faith has very little knowledge, I won't know all the benefits God has poured into my life in Christ. I'll be unhappy and anxious and fearful instead of grateful, joyful, and peaceful. This is why the apostle Paul prayed for the baby Christians in Colossae:
(Colossians 1:9-10) We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way ...
I learned how important spiritual growth is from the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:28-29:
Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Paul worked so hard because he knew that God wants his people to grow up. He wants us to become spiritual adults whose faith is deep enough to stand firm in tough times and whose faith is developed enough to enjoy all he has for us.
HOW DOES MERGE HELP US?
Merge is focused on three values that are at the core of spiritual growth. If we work on these, we will merge our lives with Christ and his mission. The three values are: 1) Gather relationally; 2) Grow intentionally; and 3) Go missionally.
If we all buy in, it will create a Jesus-movement that will impact the Blue Water area in a powerful and positive way.
Within each of these values, are concrete action steps. For example: Gather Relationally has six action steps:
Connect to Jesus
Contact Pastor Joe
Complete 101 class
Commit to the Cornerstone
Read: a) The Gospel of Mark; and b) Who Is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert.
Let's start work on the first step: Connect to Christ. This is first since all spiritual life and spiritual growth starts IN Christ. No doubt, most of us have taken this first step, but it is good to refresh our understanding of it.
ACTION STEP: CONNECT TO CHRIST
Last week, Kim and I were at our Great Lakes District Conference in Chicagoland. We had some free time, so we went for a walk in a Conservation area., We walked through the forest to the Des Plaines River and read the sign board about the Native American villages Europeans settlers. They were all drawn to the river because it was a source of abundant life.
It's the same with Jesus. He is the water of eternal life (John 4:13-14) and all spiritual growth starts in him and - this is very important - continues in him and concludes in him.
In other words, Jesus is our "all in all" (3:11) so we must get connected and stay connected to Jesus, depending on him, drawing our spiritual life and power from him. We must never try to be spiritual without him. It's all about Jesus, our all in all.
So, the question is: how do we connect to Jesus? Paul told the Colossians how and it is good direction for us also:
(Colossians 2:6-7) So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
I believe we're intended to follow the Colossians' example in two ways:
We connect to Jesus when we RECEIVE him. If I offer you a gift and you reach out your hands and take it, you have received my gift. This is what we do with Jesus. We say yes to him and we reach out with open hands to take him like a gift. We welcome him into our lives. We open our minds and hearts to him. We say, you are my Christ (Leader), my Jesus (Savior), and my Lord (God).
We connect to Jesus when we RELY on him. The Colossians were "rooted and built up in Jesus." Think of a tree with its roots dug down deep into the soil. The tree relies on the soil for stability and for the nutrients needed for life. In a similar way, we depend on Jesus for spiritual life and strength that flow from him into us. The Bible sums it up beautifully:
(Colossians 2:9-10) In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.
He's our fullness, everything we need, the source of our spiritual life and growth.
THE MERGE CHECKLIST
If you have a bulletin, please take a look inside. There is an outline of my teaching and at the end there is a Merge Checklist. It's just for part one, GATHER RELATIONALLY. Let's take a moment to work down the list. Check off each step you've already taken:
__ Connect to Jesus
__ Contact Pastor Joe
__ Complete our 101 class
__ Commit to the Cornerstone
__ Contribute financially
__ Read: a) The Gospel of Mark; and b) Who Is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert.
OK? Wherever you stopped on the list, the next step on the list is your next step. If you need some help with ideas or resources, just let me know.
You've probably heard the adage that healthy things grow. I agree with that, but with one amendment: healthy things grow under the right conditions. MERGE creates the right conditions for all of us to grow more like Jesus Christ our Lord.
FOURTEEN REASONS WHY JESUS IS OUR
SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE AND GROWTH
In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul gives at least fourteen reasons why Jesus is the source and center of our spiritual life and growth:
Jesus is the source of our spiritual life.
Jesus is God made visible, the fullness of deity in a body - 1:15, 19; 2:9.
Jesus is in us - 1:27.
Jesus is true spiritual reality - 2:17.
Jesus is our spiritual life - 2:12; 3:3-4.
Jesus is the power of God at work in us - 1:29.
Jesus forgives our sins - 1:13; 2:13.
Jesus reconciles God and humanity - 1:20-21,
Jesus is the source of our spiritual growth.
Jesus is the way to spiritual maturity - 1:28.
Jesus is true spiritual wisdom and knowledge - 2:3.
Jesus breaks the power of our sinful nature - 2:11-12 .
Jesus breaks the power of demons and evil angelic powers - 2:15
Jesus is the active power for spiritual growth - 2:19.
Jesus is the source of ultimate spiritual transformation.
Jesus is the goal - to be like him in character and conduct (1:28).
Jesus brings us to final perfection or glory - 1:27; 3:4.
WHAT COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUALITY LOOKS LIKE
Counterfeit spirituality is anything we do to gain spiritual life or to grow spiritually without Jesus as the source and center. Counterfeit spirituality comes from all kinds of places, even churches where it is presented as a sort of "Christ-less Christianity," which isn't Christianity at all. Paul dealt with this in his letter to the Colossians, which I studied and discovered three counterfeit sources of spirituality:
Counterfeit teaching. We will not experience spiritual growth by learning from teachers who minimize Jesus (see Colossians 2:8). Some books, teachers, and videos may be very practical and useful, but they won't help us become like Jesus.
Counterfeit gods. We will not experience spiritual growth by connecting or praying to angels or other "spirit" entities (see Colossians 2:8, 18). Astrology, palm reading, seances, communing with the dead (necromancy) and so on may seem spiritual, but it is actually sinful; it is idolatry and witchcraft and it may even invite demonic oppression into your life. It's definitely not connecting us to Jesus or to spiritual growth.
Counterfeit rituals. We will not grow spiritually by focusing on food, festivals, and denial of our physical bodies and needs (see Colossians 2:16, 18, 20-23). These are a form of religion without power (2 Timothy 3:5) because they do not connect us to Jesus. Jesus is the only source of spiritual growth.
The apostle Paul sums up this counterfeit Christianity in this way:
(Colossians 2:19) They have lost connection with the head (Jesus), from whom the whole body (us, Jesus-followers), supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
That's the sobering truth about counterfeit spirituality. God doesn't use it because it doesn't connect us to Jesus Christ.