When we started Epic Church, we were so excited about what God might build in this new church – right here in downtown San Francisco. While we were filled with hope for this reality, we knew we had to answer an important question right from the start of our church:
Will we exist only for ourselves or for others?
This is a question each of us must ask in our own lives. And it’s a question we must keep asking in our church, especially after what we’ve been through the last two years. Because we started asking other kinds of questions over the last couple of years. Questions like: How much are we going to lose? Or Are we going to make it?
These are understandable questions, but they are also questions that can lead to self-absorption and restrict us to only existing for ourselves.
Here at Epic, we’re continuing to make it clear that we will never exist merely for ourselves. And the strongest time of year we demonstrate this is when we launch The Hope Project. And today is the day for that! The Hope Project is how we fund our ministry partners in San Francisco, around the U.S., and across the world. It’s how we bring hope, justice, and life.
Please read through this booklet in its entirety. Please pray about how much God would have you give to it. And feel free to join our staff and leaders, who I’m asking to give their gift to The Hope Project by December 5th.
There are some things in life that can be easily explained, while others remain a mystery. We’ve had the same next door neighbors over seven years now. They’ve always had an apricot tree. They always share their apricots with us. This year, their apricot tree grew so big that there were over a hundred apricots on our side of the fence. Over the past 7 years we’ve lived there, this has never happened. Why did it happen this year? I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. But you know what’s not a mystery to me? The lack of apricots our family produces each year. It’s not a mystery because we’ve never planted an apricot tree.
Today I want to talk about how spiritual growth happens in your life and in the kingdom of God. I’m calling this message, “A Perfectly Clear Mystery” and here’s why: Jesus is going to make it really clear why some of us are growing and some of us aren’t. But how we grow and how much we grow and how long it takes to grow – that remains a mystery.
Mark 4:21-28 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on a stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Jesus is a master storyteller. And He’s really wanting to help us understand what life is like in the kingdom of God. To say it another way:
Jesus is constantly trying to tell us about reality.
Unfortunately, many of us – even if we claim to be Christians, have a worldview that allows someone or something else to be the determinant for what we think is most real.
While there is much mystery to how the kingdom of God works, Jesus is telling us that we don’t have to stay in the dark.
God has not left us in the dark, but we can keep ourselves there.
Jesus has come to reveal God to us. He is the light of the world. When I hear people say things like, “Well I’m sure God is okay with that. Or I’m sure that’s not a big deal to God.” I’m like, “We don’t have to make guesses about this. Jesus has come to reveal God to the world.”
If you put a lamp under a bowl or under a bed, it won’t help you see. One commentator said it this way:
Jesus remains hidden from those who refuse to see.
Do you have eyes to see and ears to hear?
One of the best prayers we can pray daily is, “God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear.”
Jesus tells us to consider carefully what we hear. It is a huge first step to hear the words of Jesus. But hearing is never the final step. We must act upon what we hear.
What are you doing with what you are hearing from Jesus?
If you feel good about your spiritual life because you’ve come to church, you’ve missed the point. Yes, take the first step of hearing. But we must do something with what we’re hearing.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Jesus drives home this same point at the very end of his sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7. Look how he finishes this great teaching.
Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Did you notice the difference between these two? The difference is not found in their appearances. They appear to be the same. The difference is not found in the circumstances they went through. They both went through the same circumstances. And the difference is not found in what they heard. They both heard the words of Jesus. What separated them, then? One of them put his words into practice and the other did not. And the end results could not have been more drastically different.
We think, “I’m at church as much or more than that person is, but they really seem to be growing while I feel stuck.”
Are you putting the words of Jesus into practice or just hearing them?
As we go through the life of Jesus over these months, some of us are going to grow and others of us – our lives will be no different at the end of these months. While spiritual growth can be a mystery, if we’re not practicing the words of Jesus – then there’s really no mystery to why we aren’t growing.
Now what does Jesus mean when he says, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you”? He’s telling us that if we embrace what we’ve been shown about Him, we get more. If we don’t, we lose what we have. If I act on what I know of Jesus, He will give me a greater revelation of Himself. If I don’t, then He won’t.
So, in some ways, spiritual growth isn’t a mystery. But in other ways, it absolutely is. Look at this next parable. The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed on the ground. And night and day, no matter what he does, the seed sprouts and grows…though he does not know how. ALL BY ITSELF the soil produces grain.
The phrase “all by itself” is this Greek word “automate” where we obviously get our word automate or automatic. It just happens.
You do not have to know everything about how spiritual growth works to experience spiritual growth.
In this parable, the only thing the man has control over is whether he sows the seed. The rest is out of his control. If we go up to Napa and visit our favorite wineries, we’ll learn that some years produce better wines than other years. Why? Did they do a better job those years? Did they buy a different fertilizer? No. In most cases, they did the exact same thing year after year. But the end result – the quality of the grapes, the exact timing of the harvest – those things are out of their hands.
Significant spiritual growth is rarely going to come from a single moment and it’s not going to happen overnight. We want everything in our lives to happen instantaneously. So when we realize spiritual growth doesn’t work that way, we’re tempted to stop even trying for it.
But if you lean in and do what Jesus tells you to do, there will come a time when you look back and think, “Wow, I’m so much more ______________ than I used to be.” Or, “I don’t struggle with ______________ nearly as much as I used to.”
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
We don’t give up – this is our part. But God determines how long it will take and how much it will be.
One commentator said this about farmers:
It takes a good deal of faith to be a farmer and also a good deal of patience.
The same is true for those of us who want to see spiritual growth happen in our lives. But like an experienced farmer could tell you, the fruit will eventually come. The question for us must be this one:
Where are you planting yourself?
Plant yourself in Jesus.
Plant yourself in the spiritual practices of Jesus.
Plant yourself in the community of Jesus.