As part of our 2012 Discipleship Action Plan, we’ve been talking about Growth Groups quite a bit over the past three weeks. You’ve heard the commercials, you’ve seen the posters, you’ve received the handouts, and hopefully, you’ve registered for one of these groups. And if you haven’t yet, it’s still not too late. You still have about 13 hours left to register. You can register online until midnight tonight. But the reason that we’ve been promoting these growth groups so much lately, is because we believe that they can change our community. That’s a pretty lofty ambition, I know.

But as a church body, our mission is to draw our community into life with Christ – and we believe these growth groups can help us do just that. But I want to clarify something. Every one of you are part of the community that we want to draw into life with Christ. This isn’t just for “those people” out there. We want everyone – from the people who have never set foot inside a church to you people who attend faithfully every Sunday – to be drawn deeper into life with Christ. We want to see Jesus radically transform your life – just as much as we want to see Him radically transform the lives of the people around us.

Now you might be thinking “Well, that’s noble cause, but how do we expect this transformation to happen? How do we expect God to change lives through these growth groups?” Well the short answer is that God uses people to change lives. You see, God created us for community – to be in relationships with each other. And its when we are in community that God brings about growth and change in our lives. Remember, God doesn’t work alone – He uses people to accomplish His will. He uses people to change lives. So if you and I have no relationships with the people around us, how will God transform our lives? Or theirs? To be honest, it probably won’t happen, because God uses people to change lives.

And that’s why we think these growth groups have such great potential – because they provide opportunity for building relationships with each other and with God. So for the next two Sundays, we want to look at a couple of stories from the Bible of how God uses people – specifically small groups of people – to bring about radically transformed lives. 

This morning we want to look at the story of a paralyzed man and his four friends. We find this story twice in the Bible – Mark records it for us in chapter 2 of his Gospel – and Luke records it for us in chapter 5 of his Gospel. So if you want to flip your Bibles open to either Mark 2 or Luke 5, you can follow along with me. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose – both are very similar, but I’m going to start in Mark – chapter 2, verse 1-3.

 1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.

Mark 2:1-3

Ok, now let’s just pause here for a second. I want you to imagine for a minute what life would be like for that paralyzed man in Israel in first century AD.

His whole life has been lived out on mat maybe three feet wide and six feet long. He has to depend on someone else to feed him, clothe him, carry him around, wash and clean him, to help him go to the bathroom.

He has no way to contribute to society. He has no job, no influence, and certainly no future.

There’s nothing can be done for him medically speaking. There’s no surgeries, no rehab programs, no treatment centres that can help him. All he can do is lay on the side of the road and beg for people to drop him enough coins so that he can live another day.

It’s a pretty dismal existence. But you know, he does have one thing going for him – he’s got four great friends.

Verse 3 tells us that as Jesus was teaching, “four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.”

Now that seems like a simple enough statement, but you’ve got to wonder how that happened, don’t you? How did this paralyzed man end up with four good friends like that? I don’t want to be too cynical of human nature, but that just seems a little odd to me.  A paralyzed guy wouldn’t have gone to school, so they weren’t high-school buddies. They obviously didn’t play on the same soccer team. They didn’t all work at the same vineyard. We don’t see any evidence that they were related… So how in the world did his guy on a mat end up with these four awesome friends that cared enough about him to bring him to Jesus?

Well, the Bible doesn’t tells us that information, but I would sure guess that it didn’t happen by accident. My guess is that these four guys probably several years before, intentionally decided that they were going to befriend this guy laying on the mat. It’s not likely that they just kept bumping into each other here or there and eventually became friends. Most likely, they saw this guy laying beside the road day after day begging for coins, and they decided, “Hey, this guys needs some friends. Let’s be those friends.” I don’t know for sure – I’m guessing.

But really, isn’t that how most of our friendships develop? Usually it takes an intentional effort to develop a relationship with someone. Meeting them might be by chance, but getting to know them takes intentional effort. A good example of this is marriage. You might “fall in love at first sight” – but that doesn’t mean there is any relationship there. Not yet anyway. A strong, loving, marriage relationship is only developed through intentional effort of spending time with each other, getting to know each other, doing things for each other.

You married couples know the heights and the depths you went to to spend time with your spouse back when you were dating.  I remember one weekend when Heather was going to Bible school up by Grand Prairie and I was going to Bible school up in northern Saskatchewan – we were 13 hours apart. This one weekend, I decided to make the 13 hour drive from my school to hers, visit for a few hours, only to turn around and drive back another 13 hours to get back in time for classes. That’s 26 hours of driving in one weekend just to spend one day with Heather. But you know, you do those impractical things when you’re in love. No distance is too far. No effort is too great.

Heather & I have been married for over ten years now – and we still have to put intentional effort into our relationship. If we don’t, eventually we’ll have no relationship. We’ll simply drift apart.  We have to continually put intentional effort into our marriage.

The same principle applies in your relationship with God. You have to put in the effort of building a relationship with Him – getting to know him through reading his Word and through prayer and obedience. If you don’t, before long, you won’t really have a relationship with Him at all. You’ll simply drift apart.

And perhaps that’s why the first century church grew so much so fast. From that little band of 12 disciples – Christianity exploded all over the Roman empire. In fact, I was reading that by the time that the last apostle died, there was approximately one million Christians in the world. That’s amazing! How did that happen? I think it had a lot to do with the intentional effort they put into their relationships – both with each other and with God. Acts chapter 2 gives us some insight on this – verse 42.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

That’s pretty cool stuff, isn’t it? Did you notice all that intentional effort?

They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to eating together, and to prayer.

They sold their property and possessions to take care of each others’ needs.

They worshipped together every single day.

Do we put that kind of intentional effort into building our relationships with each other and with God? Probably not. But perhaps that’s why we don’t see the same level of growth in our churches and our lives either.

That’s one of the reasons why we’re starting up these growth groups. We want to provide you with the opportunity to put intentional effort into building your relationships with the people around you while at the same time putting intentional effort into building your relationship with God. Because as we’ve said before – life is all about our relationships.

And this guy on the mat, while he didn’t have much else going for him – he had a great relationship with his four friends and they led him to a great relationship with God – and that’s what made all the difference in his life – as we shall soon see. Let’s continue reading in Mark 2 – starting again at verse 2.

“2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3 four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4 They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head.”

Mark 2:3-4

Ok, so let’s think about this for a minute. Try to imagine how this all went down. Here we have these four buddies. They hear that Jesus is in town and they immediately think of their friend on the mat. They say to each other, “We’ve got to get our friend on the mat to Jesus. I’ve heard He can make the blind see and the lame walk – maybe He can heal our friend!” So they tell their buddy on the mat – “We’re gonna take you to see Jesus tomorrow morning – we’ll pick you up at 8:00.” And of course, that literally meant they would PICK HIM UP at 8:00.

So they go get him the next morning, and they get to the house where Jesus was – but the place is just packed out. Verse 2 tells us that there wasn’t even room outside the door. So there is no way they can get through the crowd with their buddy on the mat and get to Jesus.

But then, instead of them getting discouraged and going home, one of them gets the great idea – “Hey, let’s rip a hole in the roof and then we’ll lower him down through the hole right in front of Jesus!” Ok, who comes up with the idea of lowering a paralyzed guy on a mat through a hole in the roof? I mean, not even Arlen would come up with something out of the box like that. Well… Maybe he would. But the point is, these guys were determined to help their friend. They weren’t going to let anything stand in their way – especially not a little ol’ roof.

But I wonder what little things stand in our way? We’ve been talking about how life is all about relationships and how God created us to live in community. What barriers keep us from experiencing real community with each other? What keeps us from developing deep relationships with God and with the people around us? Perhaps not a roof, but maybe something just as simple.

Perhaps its something as simple as our tv. Do your favorite shows or TSN get in the way of you spending time with God? Or spending time with your family? Or with your neighbor?

Or maybe it’s not your tv that’s getting in the way – maybe it’s your computer or the internet? I don’t know if you’re an AVERAGE Canadian – but in 2010 the average Canadian spent 35 hours per week watching tv and being on the internet. Now if you took those same 35 hours a week and spent it in meaningful conversations and meaningful activities with your friends, your family, and with God, do you think your life would change? I bet it would.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that watching tv and browsing the internet is bad – but what I’m saying is that we have to make choices about our priorities. We only have one life to live and only 24 hours in day. How are we going to spend the time we have? Ephesians 5 gives us a good reminder.

“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” Ephesians 5:15-17

God wants us to choose our priorities wisely. He wants us to make the most of every opportunity that He gives us. We need to be like those four friends – when they had the opportunity to see their paralyzed friend be healed – they made the most of that opportunity. They were not going to let anything get in their way. Not the tv. Not the internet. Not the crowds. Not even the roof. Let’s see what happened next.

“They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:4

Then jump down a few more verses to 10… (Jesus is talking with the teachers of the religious law who didn’t believe that Jesus could forgive sins, and Jesus says…)

 So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11 “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

 12 And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” Mark 2:10-12

And that is a radically changed life! His sins forgiven – His body healed – He would never be the same. And that is exactly the point. God’s in the business of radically changing lives – and He uses people to help Him do it. Yes, it was God who forgave his sins, and yes, it was God who healed his body.

But what would have happened if those four friends hadn’t cared enough to bring that man to Jesus? What if they had become discouraged when they saw that they couldn’t get to Jesus because of the crowd? What if they hadn’t thought of had the crazy idea to rip a hole in the roof above Jesus and lower their friend down? These four friends were absolutely key to this man’s radical change. In fact, look at verse 4 & 5 again.

“They lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:4-5

It says “seeing their faith” – not just the faith of the paralyzed man – but “their faith” – the faith of his four friends. That’s what moved Jesus to act. Those four friends were far more instrumental in bringing healing to this man’s life than what you might think. Not only did they bring him to Jesus – overcoming every obstacle that stood in their way, but it was their faith in Jesus that caused Him to radically transform this paralyzed man’s life.

God’s in the business of radically changing lives – and He uses people to help Him do it.

I look around this room and I see people who’s lives have been radically changed by God. But God hasn’t working alone. Over the last couple of months we’ve heard the testimonies of Dennis, Jordan, Ryan & Brittany – all radically changed by God, but in every one of their stories you hear about other people that God used to bring it all about. I think about my own story and the long list of people that have made an impact on my life. You probably have your own list of names of people, used by God, to change your life.

So I want to encourage you this morning to make the most of every opportunity that God brings you. Right now you’re sitting in a room full of people who love the Lord. And if you will take the time and make the effort to build some relationships with them, I guarantee you, God will use them to change your life. That’s how God works.

And don’t think this is just one great big growth group commercial either. While I do think these Growth Groups are a great opportunity to build relationships, you have so many other opportunities out there as well. It could be as simple as getting off the couch and playing a game with your kids or going for a walk with your spouse. Maybe you could go down to the skating rink or the jolly seniors just to visit with the people there. Maybe you want to invite another couple over for coffee this afternoon instead of watching the game – or at least invite them to watch the game with you! But build relationships. Take the time and make the effort to get to know the people around you. Because that’s exactly what God will use to change your life and theirs.

This morning we want to celebrate communion together. And really that’s what this is all about – not the communion itself – but what it means.

We talked in December about how God created mankind to have a perfect relationship with God and with each other. No awkwardness or fear or strain of any kind – just a wonderful deep friendship – like the best, closest of friends. But how all that changed when Adam & Eve sinned. Our relationships were broken. And in fact, it’s our broken relationships with God and man that cause us the most pain even today.

But in His great kindness and love for us, God send His Son Jesus – to die on a cross – to take the punishment for our sin – so that we can have a restored relationship with God and each other again. And communion is when we remember the great price that God paid for each one of us. We’ve talked a little bit today about putting time and effort into our relationships – well, Jesus gave His life. He loved us so much that no price was too great. He endured the whipping, the beatings, the crown of thorns, the nails in his hands and feet, the spear in his side, and the weight of all the sin in the world including yours and mine – so that we could have a relationship with Him. That’s the effort Jesus put in. And maybe the question we need to ask this morning is “How have we responded?”  John 3:16 says…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Have you believed in Him? Have you accepted his free gift of eternal life? It’s free because He paid for it with own life…

If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, I encourage you to do that today. Put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and begin your relationship with Him. If you’re not really sure how, please talk to me after the service, I would love to help you do that.