So as we got ready to edit the teaching from this past Sunday and post it here, we discovered a lot of distracting fuzz and popping noises that keep you from being able to hear the teaching itself. So in it's place, we've posted a rough transcript on our website that you can skim through in 5 or 10 minutes (rather than listen for 35!). Hopefully this transcription of Erin's message will help you grow spiritually and go deeper with Jesus!
Last week, as we kicked off this Going Deeper series, I took you back in time. We went to 1998. Well, this Sunday, we are going back again, this time to 2006.
But for my family, 2006 was a great year. On August 5, our fourth child joined the Bird Family. Here is a picture of our handsome little guy just 6 hours after his exit from the womb.
That awesome kid is now 8 years old. Most of you know the handsome little man who runs around here as we are tearing down. But what if I showed you this next picture and said that this is my son right now, 8 years after birth?
You’d suddenly be concerned. You’d have questions. You’d probably assume something is wrong. Why?
Because we all know that healthy things grow. And in that picture, he looks to be 8 months, not 8 years. So we naturally know this isn’t normal. He should be growing. If a living thing remains unchanged, we assume it is unhealthy, wondering if it has some disease or genetic condition. Living things must grow and change in order to not just survive but to thrive.
We see this truth all over in life. Physically, a body has to create new cells constantly to stay alive. For instance, you generate entirely new skin every 27 days. Your liver can regenerate itself in 30 days. You cut your hair, it grows back. Growth and change are part of the building blocks of life.
But we can apply this same truth to society. For instance, if someone is in college their entire life, we either expect they are working on a doctorate or worry about their intelligence or their work ethic or their ambition. We expect people to graduate eventually.
Or how about the guy who is 37, single, lives with his parents, makes minimum wage, tells stories about his glory days of high school football and still wishes he could go to Prom? We look at that and think something’s not right. That’s not healthy.
Well guess what? The same can be said for the spiritual realm of life. If someone is in exactly the same spot they were a year ago, or 10 years ago, it is a sign of poor spiritual health.
I believe that God expects us to grow spiritually. He does not want us to become stagnant. Our key text for this Going Deeper series, for all of Riverwood for that matter, automatically assumes that growth will come. That key passage is Ezekiel 47:1-12. Last week I read the entirety of those 12 verses, but to save a bit of time this week, let me sum it up.
This passage is about a vision that the prophet Ezekiel had. In his vision, he was getting a tour of the temple mount, beginning in Ezekiel chapter 40. Then suddenly in chapter 47, as the tour of the temple is wrapping up, Ezekiel sees some water flowing from the temple. The water goes right by the altar, out the east gate, and flows down into the Dead Sea, where suddenly there are all kinds of fish living in what were once stagnant lifeless waters. The angel takes Ezekiel outside the temple and invites him to walk through the river 4 times, each time the water being deeper.
As I said last week, I believe the river is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would be born of the virgin Mary about 500 years after this passage was written. Like the river that came from the temple, the place of God’s presence, Jesus came from heaven, the ultimate place of God’s presence. Like the river that goes by the altar, the place of sacrifice, Jesus went through the cross, the place of sacrifice for the sins of all of mankind. Like the river which brought life to the Dead Sea, Jesus came to bring life to mankind.
So if this river represents Jesus, then when Ezekiel walks through the river four times would kind of indicate the idea of going deeper with Jesus. This leads to Riverwood’s pathway. While our pathway of Gather Grow Give Go isn’t directly in the passage, I think our pathway of helping people follow Jesus is similar. The easiest place to connect with Riverwood is our public Worship Gatherings. This is kind of getting ankle-deep in a sense.
So last week we talked about the importance of gathering with others for the purpose of worship Jesus together through song, through teaching, through prayer, and more.
But as I said last week, I don’t think a Worship Gathering is the most effective way to help people follow Jesus. Sure, a worship gathering can be powerful, it can be moving, it can be beautiful, but its like a one hit wonder.
And I believe Jesus didn’t just come to make a one-time impression to leave people with a wow. I think he came to redeem broken and imperfect people and restore them into the complete and perfect image of himself. And that doesn’t come through a one-hit wonder, nor even through a series of weekly gatherings. Following Jesus has to become a daily thing, and so we have to move from just gathering to actually growing.
Now, we talked about the river last week, and we saw Ezekiel going deeper in that river. So naturally today we are going to talk about getting knee-deep in our relationship with Jesus. A person who is knee-deep versus just being ankle deep can feel the flow, the current of the river more. The knee-deep person has a better sense of where the river is trying to take him or her.
But I’m going to take a slight turn here. Instead of focusing on the river more to talk about getting knee-deep, we are actually going to look at the trees mentioned in the passage. We see the trees first mentioned in verse 7, but really brought out in verse 12. Let me read verse 12 to you.
"And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 47:12)
Now, I believe these trees represent Jesus-followers. Why?
Well, first, these trees perform a very similar function as the river:
And because I believe that a Jesus-follower is someone who loves like Jesus loved and lives like Jesus lived, I think because these trees do similar things as the river, it means they could represent Jesus-followers.
So that means, if you are a Jesus-follower, you are a tree! If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you might say you are an ent, but nonetheless, you are tree people. And the Scriptures agree with this idea.
Psalm 1:1-3 tells us:
"Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers."
And in Jeremiah 17:7-8, it says:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
But it’s not just the Old Testament that gives this idea of people being like trees. Paul teaches the same in one of his letters, and that’s where I want to spend the rest of our morning. So turn in your Bible or Bible app to Colossians 2:6-7.
As you turn to Colossians, let me tell you just a bit about it. It is another letter written by the Apostle Paul. Already in Riverwood’s short life-span, we’ve studied the book of Galatians written by Paul, and we are currently going through the book of 1 Corinthians, also a letter written by Paul (when we aren’t going through a topical series like Going Deeper or Christmas Songs).
But unlike those letters, Paul never went to the city of Colassae. He didn’t plant the church there. He never visited their elders. Most commentators and scholars believe that it was Jesus-followers from the city of Ephesus where Paul planted a church that went inland about a hundred miles and shared the gospel in Colassae, which led to the start of a church there.
But even though Paul never met these Jesus-followers, he wanted to encourage them. He didn’t want to see them get messed up like the Galatians were, or like the Corinthians were as we’ve been seeing through his first letter to them. So like a pastor, Paul writes to them to help them in their faith, so Paul says this to them:
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-7)
Anytime you start a Bible verse, and it starts with the word “Therefore” ask yourself, “what is that therefore there for?”
Leading up to this, Paul has been laying out an argument for just how awesome Jesus is, and how amazing the gospel story is. And then he starts saying that even though he has never met them face-to-face, he wants nothing more than to see them be firm in their faith, or in other words, he wants to see them go deeper with Jesus.
And how does he say to do that? The same way they came to Christ. It was the gospel that opened their eyes to the power and beauty of Jesus, and so it should be the gospel that takes them deeper.
But then Paul mixes his metaphors. He is talking about their spiritual “walk.” This idea they are walking a path, a path where they are simultaneously walking with Jesus as well walking toward him. But then right after using this imagery of walking, he shifts to another metaphor. He says they should be rooted and built up. Like a tree, they are to put their spiritual roots deep into the gospel, deep into Jesus, and by drinking from this river of Jesus, they will grow, they will be built up.
This is what we see in Ezekiel 47. The trees in verse 12 receive their life, their strength, from the river. Without the river, the trees die. The source for their existence is the river. And the same is true of you. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you must be rooted in Christ. You can’t produce fruit, you can’t put out leaves, you can’t grow without Jesus.
Now next week we are going to talk about the fruit and leaves of the tree, because that is what the trees give. But while we are going to look at the fruit and leaves more next week, I want to point out one thing to you.
You never see a tree have to groan or strain to produce fruit, or put out leaves, or simply to grow for that matter. A tree doesn’t focus on production, the tree only needs to focus on one thing: staying rooted. When a tree digs its roots deep, it pulls up the nourishment and water it needs to grow and produce.
And so let’s bring this back to you. If you are a Jesus-follower, then you are a tree. You are to be rooted in Christ. So therefore, be like a tree and dig your roots deep. Focus on Jesus. When you are rooted and drawing your strength from the river, the fruit and leaves and growth will come. Because we know that healthy things grow.
So let’s talk about how to grow or go deeper, to be rooted in Christ. At Riverwood, we take a two-handed approach to spiritual growth. It’s the idea of both hands hanging on, getting a grip. And the first hand that is gripping the gospel for the purpose of spiritual growth is “Grow on your Own.”
For many Jesus-followers throughout history, the way they call “Grow on your Own” is the phrase “Spiritual Disciplines.” These are disciplines you willingly engage in for the purpose of spiritual growth. For some people, they will fast from food or something else so that they might focus on Jesus. It takes discipline to do such a thing, but they see the reward of being closer to Christ worth any sacrifice. Some people use journaling as a discipline, leaving a written record for them to late look over later in life and see what God has done and taught them. Some people discipline themselves to go on spiritual retreats. There are all sorts of spiritual disciplines that you can engage in.
But the two biggest disciplines that Jesus-followers throughout history have engaged in the most are reading the Bible and prayer.
1 – Bible
Why read the Bible? Well, first, Deuteronomy 8:3, (which Jesus quoted in his first temptation from Satan in Matthew 4) tells us that man does not live on bread alone, but on the very words of God. And so critical to your growth as a Jesus-follower are the words of God, better known as the Bible. But most people need some sort of plan to read the Bible. It’s rather a big book - it’s actually 66 books. Where do you begin? How much do you read at a time?
Let me try to help you out. There are 6 different reading plans on the back table. One is designed to give you a great overview of the key doctrines of the New Testament in only one month. The other 5 plans each will help you get through the Bible in one year, but they all take different approaches. One is chronological, another one skips around, another one is straight through – there is one for your personality and reading preference. I know this is May, but just start with the appropriate reading on the this date in May. The goal is not to read the Bible in a year – the goal is to grow, to get rooted. If we run out of plans (I only printed 3 of each), you can find them for free at http://www.heartlight.org/devotionals/reading_plans/
2 – Prayer
So we need to hear from God in His Word. But we are also commanded in Scripture to pray. Any relationship benefits from good communication, so why not our relationship with God? If prayer is not something you are used to doing, I have a suggestion for you. Set an alarm. Maybe set your clock alarm to wake you up 5 minutes earlier. Or set your watch alarm to go off 5 minutes after your alarm clock to remind you to pray. I’ve heard that some business men will put their shoes under their bed so that they have to get down on their knees to get their shoes, which is a physical reminder to pray. Stick a post-it note on your mirror or car dashboard. Turn off the radio when you drive to work. Ask a co-worker to hold you accountable to praying at the start of each work day. Use the free Echo prayer app to catalog different prayer requests and to remind you to pray.
If we are going to fulfill 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – to pray continually – then we have to start somewhere. But Hebrews 4:16 tells us to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence – he wants us to come to him in prayer. Because as we spend time with him, he will grow us, transform us into the image of his son, Jesus, which means we will be like the river, giving life and healing.
So the first hand of spiritual growth is called “Grow on your Own." The other hand gripping the gospel is “Grow in a Group.”
I had a mentor who used to say, “All effective ministry happens in the context of relationship.” And he’s right. God has designed people to be relational. Even the most reserved introvert needs someone in their life. Someone to listen, someone to love them, someone to bring them groceries when they are shut in, someone to write the books they read or create the TV programs they watch. We all need people.
When we only grow on our own, we miss out on the input of others. They might say something in such a way that it helps you grow spiritually - and vice versa. When we only try to grow on our own, we miss out on the encouragement we need on the hard days that make us doubt the goodness of God - and vice versa.
And like I said last week, we want our Worship Gatherings to be beautiful and moving. I pray regularly for our Sunday mornings, that God would move in your hearts and minds. I don’t want people coming just to come, but I want people to encounter the living God.
But let’s be honest. When I teach, there is only one voice being heard. Yes, I put time and study into these message - I always come prepared. I love to teach. But I’m not perfect, I don’t see it all, and I might say something in a way that doesn’t quite connect with you. But when you get in a Growth Group, you increase the chances of someone saying something in such a way that will help you go deeper, while you also contribute your own thoughts which just might help someone else also go a bit deeper in their own spiritual walk.
So I encourage you, I implore you, to take a two-handed approach to spiritual growth, to get rooted, to grow in the gospel: Grow on your own and Grow in a Group.
Let me go back to my opening illustration. We all know that if we saw this photo of my youngest son at age 8 months, but heard he was actually 8 years old, we’d fear something was wrong with him.
But when I show you a photo like this and say, “This is my 8-year-old,” none of you would think something’s wrong. You’d look at the picture and think, “What a handsome little guy! He looks healthy. He looks happy. He looks like a great kid.” And he is.
But you know what has helped him to grow into a happy, healthy 8-year-old? He has grown up in a family that loves him, takes care of him, and to which he is contributing through chores, jokes, and a happy disposition. He has grown in groups.
Yet at the same time, he has been learning how to grow on his own. He takes his own shower. He brushes his own teeth. He goes to the bathroom on his own - most of the time. He can even peel a banana and feed himself.
I think all around our city, nation, and world, there are so called “Christians” who have gone to church much of their lives, they’re nice people, they look like they are happy, healthy people, but they are like spiritual 8-month-olds. They LOOK like they should be able to feed themselves, but they can’t. They don’t read the Bible. They give God cursory prayers. They only focus on Jesus for an hour on Sunday morning. They are just splashing around in ankle-deep water while the current of the river is beckoning them to go deeper. It is wanting to pull them to deeper waters. It wants them to get to the point where they are awash in the gospel, completely focused on Jesus so they can look and act like Jesus.
That is what I want for you. It’s okay if you feel like a spiritual 8-month-old or even 8-day-old. Just don’t stay there. Let God use Riverwood to help you go deeper by growing in a group. And then help yourself go deeper by beginning to grow on your own.
Stepping into the river of Jesus is awesome. If you haven’t done it yet, I invite you in. Follow Jesus. Make him the center and leader of your life.
But don’t just stay there. Let the river call you deeper. Get knee-deep. Let your roots dig deep into Jesus and His gospel so that you might be built-up, firm in your faith, becoming more and more like the river of Jesus that gives you life.