Lay Reader = Mark 3:1-12
3Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
This is the last of our series looking at the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus. Last week Pastor Carol talked about our Gospel identity, that even if all we have is an avocado and a sweet potato and a bunch of broccoli that’s enough for God to work with. This week we are looking at Gospel rhythms.
And no – I’m not talking about snapping, foot-tapping, clapping rhythms. I’m talking about Gospel rhythms. Gospel rhythms are the patterns that cultivate or choke out the Gospel in our lives.
Pastors used to say that you know what matters to people by reading the log in their check book. But most people don’t log their checks anymore – if they even use checks. Nowadays, I think it’s better to look at the battery usage tracker on your cell phone. How much time have you spent on particular apps or reading particular websites. That is probably a pretty good look at what matters to you. You can actually find that out on your phone – though it might be a little depressing so let the buyer beware on that. I looked mine up and the #1 app is my calendar. So when I feel like I spend almost as much time managing my meetings as I spend actually attending my meetings – turns out there’s some truth in that! And my #2 app was email – so communicating about my meetings!
So today we’re looking at the rhythms in your life – the patterns that are repeated and reinforced over and over again. Are your life rhythms cultivating the Gospel in your life or choking it out?
In our text today, Jesus is giving his best sermon. In the book of Matthew, it’s the Sermon on the Mount. In the book of Luke, it’s the Sermon on the Plain. So probably Jesus gave versions of this sermon in different contexts. A lot of the most famous teachings of Jesus are contained in this famous sermon. These are the things that Jesus repeated – it was a kind of rhythm for him. A pattern in his teaching. Maybe – just maybe – that means these things are important. Let’s hear directly from Jesus what are some of the Gospel rhythms.
31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” 39He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. 43“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. 46“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
What Is Spiritual Growth?
As many of you know, I enjoy singing. Now, I almost never watch television any more, but one day last year I decided to take a look at the show, “The Voice.” It’s basically some judges deciding who’s the better singer. And in this segment that I watched there were two singers – both of them very, very good. One showed off his impressive vocal range. The other one showed off his impressive stage presence and footwork – he put on a good show. And the judges were torn, because both were obviously stars in the making. But I still remember how the final judge broke the tie. He said, “Well, this show is called ‘The Voice,’ so I guess I have to go with the better voice.”
How deliciously simple! On “The Voice” we find out who has the better voice. Brilliant!
So what’s the simple summary of spiritual growth? How do you know if you are spiritually “better” than you were a year ago? What’s the measuring stick?
As a church, we summarize our mission as helping people become Rooted, Growing, and Branching Out. We want to help you develop rooted relationships – meaningful relationships. We want to help you be growing in your faith. And we want to help you branch out to serve.
Rooted relationships – that’s pretty easy to gauge. Do I have more people I want to let into my life? If so, I’m becoming more Rooted.
Branching Out to serve – that’s pretty easy to gauge. Have I found a place to serve other people that is also life-giving to me? Or do I have a context to invite new people to connect? If so, I’m Branching Out.
But what about Growing in faith? How do we define that? It’s the most nebulous of our three missions as a church. We don’t have anything simple as “The Voice” for spiritual growth.
As I read our text today, I would say Jesus gives us a bunch of examples that reveal a big theme of spiritual growth. Let’s try to find that together.
Jesus says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He talks about loving your enemies. He says be merciful and do not judge. He says we need to forgive. Don’t be a hypocrite. Do what Jesus tells you. Build your house on the rock of Christ. Do you have all of those down pat? Are you good with that list? Do you get an “A” on all of those? If so, you’re preaching next week because you’re doing this way better than me!
Here’s my take-away from this list: spiritual growth is when our hearts look more like Jesus. We are Growing in faith when our hearts look more and more like Jesus. Not just our actions. Our thoughts. Our feelings. Our first instincts. Our innermost hearts.
So if you want to know if you have grown spiritually over the last year, don’t ask yourself if you learned more. Don’t ask yourself if you served more. Those are great, but they aren’t the measuring stick for spiritual growth. Ask yourself if your heart is more or less like Jesus. That’s the measuring stick.
I think this is important, because every year I increase in my knowledge of the Bible. Every year I increase in my understanding of God’s Word. But I don’t necessarily see my heart become more like Jesus every year. In fact, some years I go backwards. In fact, if I’m being honest, I think in 2018 I went backwards a little bit. My innermost thoughts and heart have become slightly less like Jesus over the last year. And I think I know why. I’ll get to that in a second.
How’s your heart? How are your innermost thoughts and attitudes? If you made a graph, would it be trending upward or downward or just flat? Think back to a year ago. Think back to five years ago. Ten years ago. How does your heart compare to your heart then? Is your heart more or less like Jesus?
I’ve shared before about one of my favorite church research studies – it’s called Reveal. They collected data from over 250,000 churchgoers to try to figure out what beliefs, activities, church events, and attitudes contributed to spiritual growth. And they found that there are two basic spiritual practices that are the top ways to invest in your spiritual growth no matter where you are on the spiritual continuum. Whether you’re wondering, “Who’s Jesus?” or you’re Mother Theresa or anywhere in between – the same two practices – the same two rhythms are at the top of the spiritual food chain.
I share this about once a year in sermons and I often share it at the Pastor’s Breakfast, so here’s your test. Anyone remember the two practices that contribute most to spiritual growth? <PAUSE>
“Reflecting on Scripture” and “Praying for Guidance.” Let me say that again, “Reflecting on Scripture” and “Praying for Guidance.” Say it with me, “Reflecting on Scripture” and “Praying for Guidance.”
Those phrases are very specific. You can read the Bible without reflecting on it. But it’s better to read only a few verses and really think about them than to read several chapters without stopping to apply it to your own life.
And praying for guidance – there are lots of ways to pray. You can pick up a copy of our Joys and Concerns and lift up those people in prayer. That’s a good thing. But it’s not praying for guidance.
Praying for guidance is asking God, “what do you want me to do?” “What do I need to change, and what do I need to do more?” “Who can I love in your name?” That’s praying for guidance.
So the top two spiritual practices are, say it with me again, “Reflecting on Scripture” and “Praying for Guidance.” There are a ton of other ways to invest in your spiritual growth, but without those two things it’s hard to see your heart become more like Jesus.
And that’s what I’ve been missing. I have done other things. Primarily in 2018 I spent time praying through music – not just playing music but praying through music. And I think it has helped me express the emotions that are too deep for words. But that’s not praying for guidance.
And I have kept doing my normal devotional practice – I have a particular method I use to reflect on Scripture. But in previous years I would have a journal entry on the vast majority of days. Last year it was the vast minority of days. And I even remember at a staff meeting last year that I shared how I wasn’t as on top of my spiritual practices as in previous years, but I wasn’t noticing much difference in my heart. Well by the end of the year I noticed a difference. When the last couple of months of the year were tougher than most, I didn’t have that reservoir of Christ-likeness in my heart.
So the challenge to myself in talking about Gospel rhythms is that I need to get back to the basics. I need those two basic practices to come back into my daily rhythm. Because those two practices shape my heart to be more like Jesus.
That’s me. How about you? How are your Gospel rhythms? How are you routinely, regularly reflecting on Scripture? How are you routinely, regularly praying for guidance? What other Gospel rhythms do you have in your life that shape your heart more like Jesus?
On Wednesday we’re starting the season of Lent with our Ash Wednesday service, and Lent is often a time of spiritual reflection. Sometimes people give something up for Lent or take on some new practice for Lent. So is there anything Jesus might be calling you to add to your life rhythm between now and Easter? Is there anything you need to remove from your life to make the time or the space for that new Gospel rhythm?
Other Gospel Rhythms
If you’re like me and you have alternative ways you’re trying to grow spiritually but you’re lacking that foundation, that bedrock, then get back to basics. That’s what I need to do.
But if you have those bedrock basics and you’re still feeling like you’re stagnant in your faith, Jesus has a bunch of other ideas for you.
In our first text, Jesus got in trouble for healing someone on the Sabbath. That tells me that serving other people is a good Gospel rhythm. We’re trying to connect people with our mission partner Love in the Name of Christ – or Love INC for short. Go to loveinclittleton.org and find a way to serve. Or we’re working with Arapahoe County on a system to help churches meet the needs of people who have case workers. It’s called Care Portal. But we need someone to be the point person for our church. If you want to serve and you’re quick with email, let me know and we can train you on how to send out those needs to others in our church. Or help us set up or clean up for the Movie Night or volunteer with the upcoming Parents’ Night Out on March 15. Serving is a Gospel rhythm.
In our main text, Jesus talks about loving difficult people. Anyone in your family that could use some love? What about the difficult person at your office? Or the troublesome neighbor? Or the homeless person you drive by every day? Loving difficult people is a Gospel rhythm.
Jesus talks about not judging – showing mercy – forgiving. We’re about to spend the season of Lent talking about the Art of Forgiving – so is there anyone you need to forgive? Or someone you feel like you’re judging that you could spend some time with to get to know them? That’s a Gospel rhythm.
Rhythms are important. Our patterns, our habits, our rhythms often matter more than mountaintop experiences. I don’t remember the details of a single lesson from my high school youth group, but I still remember the rhythm. Two Sundays of Bible study. One Sunday fun event. One Sunday serving others. Rinse and repeat – it was a great rhythm to grow in faith.
What Gospel rhythms do you have in your life? What Gospel rhythms do you need in your life to help your heart become more like Jesus? Amen.