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Intentional Relationships

Today is an exciting day! It’s the beginning of a new year. Another 365 days of God doing “God-things”. And God has certainly done a lot of God things in this past year. As we look back at 2011, it is amazing to see what God has been doing. Each family here could probably tell us some significant thing that God has brought about in their life in this past year. I know, as a church, this past year has been one exciting ride!

And after looking back to see what God has done in 2011 – I am totally excited to see what God is going to do 2012. But its interesting to note that in all these amazing things that God does, He doesn’t work alone. He involves you and me. God used people to put together this building. God used people to invite Dennis to church and to teach him and encourage him. God uses people to carry out his will.

We talked about that a little bit last Sunday. How after Jesus rose from the grave, He went back to heaven and left us with the task of telling people everywhere the good news of Salvation. We read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18…

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

You see, God didn’t just leave us on this planet to kill time until He returns. He’s given us a job to do – He’s given us a mission. And in our church DNA, we’ve worded it this way:

Our mission is to draw our community into life with Christ. 

That’s what we’re all about. That’s why this church exists. To draw our community into life with Christ. Because God doesn’t do that all by Himself – I mean, He can if He wants – But He has chosen to involve us in the process of drawing people to Himself.

So this morning, I want try to work out exactly what that means. What does it mean for us to draw our community into life with Christ? What does that look like? How do we actually make disciples as Jesus instructed us? What’s the game plan? Or as Steven Harper might put it – What’s our 2012 Discipleship Action Plan? That’s what we want to figure out this morning.

So where do we start? Well, there’s a saying that goes “A great commitment to the great commission and the great commandments will make a great church.”

We’ve already looked at the great commission in Matthew 28 – with Jesus instructing us to make disciples of all the nations. So why don’t we now look at the great commandments. We find these in Mark chapter 12 – starting at verse 28.

 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

 29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

So here Jesus gives us the two greatest commandments. #1. To love God with everything you’ve got. And #2. To love your neighbor as yourself.

Both of these are absolutely key to making disciples. I mean, it kinda goes without saying that loving God with everything you’ve got is step #1. You can’t lead people to love God – if you don’t love God first. You can’t teach people to obey God – if you don’t obey God first. So that’s kind of a given. So let’s presume for the moment that we already do love God with everything we’ve got. What’s the next step? According to these verses, it’s to love your neighbor as yourself.

You see, God created us to be relational people. To have family. To have friends. To have neighbors. And so it’s not surprising that throughout the Bible, God instructs us to develop good relationships with the people around us. When I looked up the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” in my online Bible, I was pretty surprised to see how many times that exact phrase was mentioned.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 19:19

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:39

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Mark 12:31

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Luke 10:27

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Romans 13:9

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  James 2:8

It almost seems like this is important. It is! By loving our neighbor as ourselves, we’re really doing two things. #1. We’re showing them the love of God. We’re giving them an example of what God is like. That in itself is a major part of making disciples. But also, in loving our neighbors, we’re developing relationships with them. Remember how we talked about in the first part of December how life is all about relationships – both with God and with each other? That means that building a relationship with your neighbor is really what life is all about.

It’s through developing relationships and friendships with the people around us, that we have opportunity to communicate the love of Jesus Christ through our actions and our words. Sure, we can share the Gospel with any ol’ Joe on the street, but when we’ve taken the time and made the effort to build up a friendship with that person, they have a much greater opportunity to see Jesus in us, and after they’ve had a chance to listen to our actions, they are much more inclined to listen to our words.

So friendship is a key element in making disciples. All of us know somebody who, at this point, has not yet surrendered their life to God. So what do we do to make disciples of these people? We start by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So I want to encourage you, to keep on loving your neighbors just as I know that many of you are already doing. Keep building those friendships – even if it seems they’re totally closed to spiritual things. We have no idea what God is doing in their lives and in their hearts. Remember, it’s His responsibility to change peoples lives – not ours. So regardless of whether or not we see any ‘spiritual process’, our responsibility is to love our neighbors as ourselves no matter what.

And our hope is that one day, through these friendships that you developed over weeks, months, or years – that these people would eventually come to know and love Jesus Christ. And it is a thrilling day when that happens. But it is certainly not the end of the disciple-making process. That is just the beginning. When Dennis showed up in church one year ago – it wasn’t “Mission Accomplished”… It was mission just beginning.

Once we become part of God’s family, we begin the life-long process of becoming like Christ. And having solid Christian fellowship is a key part of that. But this fellowship isn’t just potluck suppers that we typically associate with ‘fellowship’. The kind of fellowship that makes disciples is something much more intentional. Hebrews 10:24 says….

24 “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Fellowship is very intentional. It’s creatively thinking of new ways to spur each other on. To encourage one another. To build each other up. But it’s not all just ‘pats on the back’ all the time. Sometimes its a ‘kick in the pants’ that’s needed. Sometimes it’s correcting each other when we go astray. It’s caring enough to intervene when we see a problem.

Look here at 1 Thessalonians 5:14…

 14 “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

 15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.”  1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

You see, this kind of fellowship is not just after the Sunday service chit-chat. It’s getting involved in each other’s lives. It’s going through the ups & downs of life side-by-side. It’s doing whatever it takes to help that other person succeed in becoming like Christ. That’s making disciples. That’s true fellowship.

This is exactly what Jesus did with 12 of his closest friends. He hung out with them. He taught them. He challenged them. He corrected them. He encouraged them. He warned them. He loved them. He invested three full years of his life into transforming these 12 ordinary guys into men that would change the world for Christ. And boy, did they ever! In fact, every one of us here could trace our spiritual lineage back to those 12 apostles. It’s because they went and made disciples of all nations – that we are here today. That all happened because of those three years of Jesus teaching, challenging, correcting, encouraging, warning, loving them…

So that’s exactly what we want to do in this church too. We want to see ordinary people like you and me – radically transformed into men & women of God that will change the world for Christ. We want to see hundreds and thousands of people be able to trace their spiritual lineage back to this little church in Mirror.

That’s the end goal when we say that we want to draw our community into life with Christ. We want to see radically transformed lives.

Now keep in mind, we don’t do the transforming – only God does that. Only He has the power change lives. But, that being said, God chooses to work through people to do his work. God wants us to be involved in the process. As we draw our community in life with Christ, as we make disciples, God transforms lives. That’s really what it’s all about.

So as a church, we want to do the best job we can at making disciples. We want to provide you with every opportunity – every tool that we can to help you make disciples.

And so that’s why we’ve come up with this idea of Growth Groups. This is our Discipleship Action Plan – if you will. This is our strategy to give you more intentional opportunities to draw your community into life with Christ.

And what’s important to remember is that these growth groups are not an end to themselves – the point isn’t to just to have growth groups. The point is to have radically transformed lives and if these growth groups can help make that happen – awesome! That’s what we want to see.

So what exactly are these growth groups that you’ve been hearing about for the past few months? How do they work? Well I am very excited to tell you this morning!

If you pop open your bulletin you’ll see an insert in there titled “Growth Group Catalogue”. These are the four growth groups that we will be offering in this first three-month period. As you can see, we’ve tried to give you a wide variety of choices. We’ve got financial training, fun & games, Bible study, exercise – And the idea is that you will sign up to join one of these four groups – whichever one interests you the most.

Then over the course of the 8 – 12 weeks that your participate in your particular group, you’ll have the opportunity to do several things:

You’ll have the opportunity to meet some new people – or at least get to know some people a little bit better than you did before. This will be especially helpful to you if you’re new to the area – or new to this church – or you just want to increase your circle of good friends. We want to give you the opportunity to build relationships. Remember, life is all about relationships. So here’s an opportunity to build some.

You’ll have the opportunity to grow spiritually – every group will have some element of Biblical teaching to it. This is where we want to build into your life – helping you grow, encouraging you, and spurring you on.

And then on the flip side of that, you’ll have the opportunity to build into other people’s lives. Whether its building a friendship with someone who doesn’t even attend church, or just being an encouragement to someone, or perhaps you’ll have the chance to share your testimony… or whatever it is. The opportunities will probably look different in each of the groups. But those opportunities will be there to build into other people’s lives.

And I believe these growth groups have the potential to totally change our church. I think God can use these groups to help every one of us grow spiritually way beyond where we are today. So I really want to encourage every one of you to get involved in one of these growth groups.

Here’s how you do it:

Read through your growth group catalogue in your bulletin. Find one that you think you’d like to be part of. You may want to take your catalogue home and look at your calendar to see what days you’re available.

When you’re ready to register – there are three ways to do it:

On the back of your communication card there are four little check boxes for the four groups. Check the one you’re interested in and be sure to fill out your name on the front – and toss that card in the offering plate or in the box at the back.

You can fill out your name and number on the Registration sheet at the back table in the foyer. (I should also mention that on that table are some invitations to each particular growth groups. These are for inviting some of your friends and neighbors – who maybe don’t come do church, but you think might be interested in joining one of these groups. So maybe once you’ve signed up for a group, you can take an invitation and invite some one you know to join the group with you.

The third way to register is to register online. You can go to our website – and right on the front page – down near the bottom is  simple registration form. Just fill that out, click “submit” and you’re done.

So that’s it. If you have any questions about this whole growth group process, be sure to talk to me after the service or put a note on your communication card. I know this is kind of a new thing, and there’s probably going to be a few hiccups along the way – but that’s ok. We’ll get it all worked out. But that’s our 2012 Discipleship Action Plan. And we trust that as we do our part – drawing our community into life with Christ – participating in these growth groups – loving our neighbors as ourselves – then God will do His part – and radically transform lives.

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