Speaker: Jim Jensen
Scripture: 2 Peter 1:5-8

How do you grow spiritually? Lots of study? Never miss church? Just be good (for goodness sake)? Is there a shortcut? Or maybe some kind of secret? This Sunday get encouraged about your faith as we share the 2024 SG plan to partner with you in your faith development!

From the series

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Hello. Hello. Welcome. Good to see all of you here in person. Thank you for those watching online. Do we have any SG kids in the room today? I see a few there. Great. Love to have you. I want you to know that this is a family-friendly church and those times. And we don’t have our full kids programming. It’s great that our kids are here. So, parents, don’t worry. They get a little fidgety. It’s not going to bother me. And we just love that you’re here. Thank you for being here. My name is Jim. People around here at Shepherds Gate call me J.J. and I’m the executive director. This last Sunday of the year. It’s my privilege to be here and to share a little bit from my life and from the Word of God. First, though, really interesting week. I don’t know if it’s been an interesting week for you.

Usually, the week before Christmas and New Year’s is kind of a no man’s land. Have you ever experienced this like we’re staying up late because you don’t want to go to work next day, so we’re sleeping in our meal, times are off and then I don’t feel like I’ve seen the sun in like a month. Is that right? I think we were we were at a movie the other night, and my younger daughter, Haley, we were we went to the movie at night. So we saw the movie. We were like, Boy, it’s kind of dark, you know? We came out and she’s like, you know, I think it’s darker. And she was right. It was even darker if that could be possible. And then I do believe the sun came out yesterday for about 5 minutes. Did anyone see that? It was like, it still exists, which is great. Good for us. I don’t know. But, you know, the week and it’s kind of interesting that the sun is the last day of the year.

That, of course, doesn’t happen every year once every, what, seven years or something like that. And it’s kind of the hinge point. You’re looking back at 2023 and you’re looking forward at 2024. And if there’s any day to be introspective and think about it, this would be the day we only have a few hours left in 2023. And so you know what? Well, let’s think about it. We’re going to do more of looking to 2024. But let’s look back at 2023 or look back even further. Just ask some questions so that we can get started here If it’s a day of introspection, if it’s a day to think about things, let’s think about it. So, you know, how was your year? How did it go? How do you feel? Are you are you so glad that it’s over or are you looking back fondly in saying, boy, this was a great year for me, my family, maybe a little bit of both?

That’s how life usually works, a little bit of good, a little bit of bad. Just kind of running along together of this is interesting. Someone made this point to me a few days ago and I was shocked to think about it. In March of 2024, we will have our fourth anniversary of the start of COVID. Four years have passed since COVID started. That’s crazy. Well, it feels like no time at all. In some ways. I wonder, though, if some lingering habits from the pandemic are still with us in 2023. In the pandemic, we stepped out of relationships, we stepped out of attendance, and we stepped out of the community by necessity. And yet many of us formed habits on those things. Did any of those habits linger into 2023? Perhaps it in it’s just time for introspection. It’s time to think about it. What do we want to be different in 2024?

Well, what do we want our lives to be like? This reminds me of something that my wife, Lisa and I have been talking about a lot in 2023, which is empty nesters in the fall. Our oldest daughter went to college for the first time as a freshman, and we have our younger daughter still with us. She’s in 10th grade and that means two and a half years from now we will be empty nesters. So we’re almost, almost empty nesters. And we’ve been thinking about this and we’ve had some couples that we know that are a little ahead of us in this game and have struggled with that. And so we’ve started talking, well, what would be like our life to be like when that time occurs? And, you know, one of the things that we noticed was that our friendships are not very well in trim, where we’ve been parenting, we’ve been doing a lot of sporting events and school events and things like that, which is great.

We should take care of our families. And our families are our primary responsibility, but we have noticed that our friendships are a little lagging. We thought, you know what? What’s going to happen when our youngest daughter leaves home? What are we going to do? We don’t know. So we’ve been making some plans. Making some plans. Here’s one thing that we decided to do. We’re taking action now to get prepared. And so here’s one thing we’re doing. Yeah, we joined a bowling league, so I don’t know what kind of method that is. And the chicken line. I’m left-handed, though, so it’s a little better than you might think. Not really. I’m not going to tell you my bowling average, but it’s somewhere between 100-250. So, you know, those records are sealed. But we all just admit that we are not good bowlers.

The couple that Lee joined the league with in order to build those friendships up again and meet some new people and experience some more community and activity, they’re a little bit better than we are. And, you know, they’ve been helping us a little bit. When you first start bowling in a league, we’ve been renting the shoes and we’ve been trying, you know, those awful bowling balls in the back of the bowling alley, like with the chips and cracks. And of course, there probably aren’t very many left-handed balls in that alley. Not that it made a difference really, in my technique or anything, But, you know, you have to you have to use those balls and then but as we’ve been going on, we’ve been playing more and we’ve been getting a little better because we’ve got some practice and we have some friends who know a little bit about bowling and they’re giving us tips and it’s helping a little bit.

We’re getting a little better. Recently for Christmas, we said, Well, it looks like we’re going to continue with this. So we got a carrying case for a bowling ball we didn’t have, but then we got bowling balls and, you know, the guy in that creepy little room in the back of the bowling alleys that, like, messes with the balls. So we brought these to him and they cut new holes for us based on our hand width and everything. And now we have custom bowling balls and I bowled with it Friday night and it didn’t make me any better. But, you know, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful. It even has when I bowl now it curves. Have you ever seen guys I think that’s like so pro in the ball like curve sideways and goes in so maybe someday that will help me I’m not sure. But you know, it’s easy when you think of bowling.

These are the things that we can do to get better at bowling. These are things we can do to reconnect in the community and reignite some of our friendships. That’s great. But we’re here in church and we’re going to talk about our spiritual development growing in our faith. Well, that doesn’t seem as concrete to me. How do you do that? What steps do you take? Where do you go? What do you do? Well, in our time remaining, that’s what I want to talk about. Fortunately, as you might guess, the Bible has a lot to say about that. We’re going to look at a parable of Jesus. And this is a great parable because not only did he tell it, but then he turned right around and explained it and my SG kids, you’re here right now. I saw a few of you here.

So, I have found some really great pictures to illustrate this parable, and maybe you can look at them and think and see what they might mean. And then I’m gonna explain it and we’ll see if you get it right. So I will tell you that this is the parable of the sower. And there’s a farmer and he’s sowing seed. And my hints to you are that the sower is God and the seed is God’s word. And then this is what happens. So let’s take a look at these images and listen to this parable as we think about growing our faith. This is Luke 8. A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed. Some fell along the path. It was trampled on and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. The other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

Still, other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop a hundred times more than was sown. Interesting story. Easy to get to. We’ve got four images of what happens when God’s Word enters our hearts, and it seems like it can be many different things depending on the condition of our heart. This is how Jesus explained the parable. So my SG kids out there see if you got these right. The seed is the word of God along the path. The seeds along the path are the ones who here. And then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word but joy when they hear it. But they have no root, they believe for a while. But in time and in the time of testing, they fall away.

The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear. But as they go on their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. And they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the word and retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop. I won’t ask the rhetorical question, I’ll just say would be nice to be that tree in 2024. Wouldn’t it be great to have flourishing relationships? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a flourishing family life or work life? Would it mean something to us that 2024 would be the year where we take a step of faith and we grow our faith? We find at the end of the year that we’re closer to God than when we started. I would love that. I’m sure you would too.

But what does that mean? Well, here’s the good news. The good news from this parable is that the sower, the farmer, is representative of God and the seed is God’s word. And so right away there’s an encouragement here for all of us, because what that means is that God is giving us everything we need. He’s giving us everything we need to grow in faith. In 2024, he’s the one with the word, with the power. He’s the one that provides what we need. And so we need to receive it. We need to have good hearts to receive this gift. And that’s what I want to talk about the rest of the time today. How do we receive the gift of God’s Word? For that, let’s go to another passage in Scripture. This is from Second Peter, verse one or chapter one versus five through eight.

Let’s take a look at this list and see what Peter has to say about growing in our faith for this very reason. Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge, with self-control and self-control, with steadfastness and steadfastness, with godliness and godliness, with brotherly affection and brotherly affection, with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter and Paul, the writers, main writers of the New Testament. They love lists like this. And here’s a great one. Look at all these wonderful work words that are included. And if they’re increasing, it keeps us from being ineffective and unfruitful.

In other words, we can be fruitful in 2024 if we can get a handle on what all of this means. Well, first of all, you notice the word knowledge there. It actually appears twice at the beginning of the passage and at the end, well, what is knowledge? How do we grab onto the knowledge of God? Well, that can be study. We can just simply say we need to study the word of God if we want to grow and take a step of faith in 2024. We need to study. We need to know what the word says. We need to know what’s in it. We need to see the seed that the sower, that God is scattering into our hearts. We need to study God’s Word. But that’s not all. There are words in that passage, like virtue, steadfastness, self-control, godliness. What are these words about?

Well, they’re about application. It’s not enough to just study the word we say, we know a lot about the word of God. That’s great. But we have we applied it to our lives. Have we have we had it make a difference in our lives, in our work situation, in our family situation, wherever we are not just studying the word, but applying it. And then there are two words at the end Love and brotherly affection. Brotherly affection speaks to community. Actually, in Greek, the word brotherly affection in this passage is love. In English, we only have one word for love. So I could say I really love nachos and I could say I really love my wife. But obviously I love my wife differently than I love my nachos. Although they’re both spicy. That’s interesting. I didn’t notice that just now. Notice.

So there’s only one word in English for love. In Greek, there are four words for love, and they all have a different meaning. And in this passage, actually, the translators translate done of the words for love brotherly affection, because if they didn’t that the passage would end by saying and love to love and then end with love, it would be it would be nonsensical. So they translate the first love word as brotherly affection. And this speaks to community. We can’t do life alone. We’re not meant to. We’re meant to be in relationships. We’re meant to be in our families. We’re meant to be in communities like Shepherds Gate. We’re meant to experience that. The word is philia, where we get the word Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. That’s community.

And then the last word, which is also love and translated love in our Bibles is agape. The Greek word is agape, and that mean unconditional love, willing to do anything for someone. And that speaks to serving one another and giving of ourselves. And so Peter’s saying, if we want to grow in 2024, if we want to take a step of faith, if we want to be closer to God at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year, then study God’s word, apply it to your life, experience community together and serve and give to one another. Well, that leads to a very practical question, which is, Well, how does our church help us do that? How does Shepherd’s Gate partner with you in your spiritual development? Well, I’m very happy to say that we have a lot going on in this area, as you might expect.

First of all, is worship. What we’re doing right now, whether you’re watching online or you’re here in person, this is worship or maybe even later on demand. We have worship services at Shepherds Gate. I got to tell you a little bit about my church history. I’ve served six churches in my career over 27 years, and they’ve all been wonderful experiences. Some have been harder, easier than others. I had smaller churches, served at larger churches, urban, suburban, so there were a lot of differences. Some of the churches were more seeker-oriented and some were more nondenominational, and some were more denominational. And, you know, they’re all great. It takes a lot of different kinds of churches in this world to reach a lot of different kinds of people. And that’s wonderful. But when we came to Shepherd’s Gate as a family, we really love Shepherd’s Gate for this reason.

The worship services here are amazing, and the main reason that we love itis that we go deep into God’s Word every Sunday. Don’t take that for granted. Not all churches do it that way, but we do. I love that we go verse by verse. I love that we study books of the Bible. I love that we don’t shy away from the difficult topics that the Scripture brings up because this is life, this is our lives. And we need to take a look at every aspect of our life in the Bible is teaching to that. We do that. Not only do we do that, but we leverage content here in a way that I’ve never done in my ministry before and really excited about it. We take our sun content and we give it to our kids staff and they create content just for kids for age appropriate studies so that they’re studying the same things that we are not all churches do that.

Not only that, but we do. Digging Deeper questions. You can go on our website or app and every Sunday in a series, if it’s a series, not a standalone like this one, but a series, you’ll see digging deeper questions that you can use in a group or in your family. We even have a family section of questions that you can ask that are related to the topic that we discuss on that Sunday with your family, which is amazing. Not only that, make sure you’re following us on social media because we take the message on Sunday and we chop it up into little bits and then we feed it out onto our social media platforms. So all week we can be encouraged by God’s Word. We even have a Spotify playlist. That one of our members, our volunteers puts together that has all of the worship songs for a series.

So if you go on Spotify, you can search for us, find us and follow that playlist. You’ll always be up to date on the songs we use on Sunday. I love how we leverage our content. And so in 2024, maybe worship is your thing attending. Don’t miss the one, Catch it online. If you’re sick or traveling. It’s God’s word in us that makes a difference. Here’s another way that Shepherd’s Gate partners with us to grow in our faith. Step in and step out. What does that mean? Well, this is what we call our serving. We have a lot of stepped in opportunities to serve that serve. That means to come into our community and serve our community, whether it’s our city kids program or our hospitality greeting people as they come in, our worship and tech teams. And there are many, many other ways to serve so many that I can’t talk about them all. And there are lots of openings and opportunities to serve in 2024 to step in and serve the congregation.

You know, serving does something through you and it does something in you and it does something for you. If you have not served before in a church setting, I challenge you to try it in 2024. That may be just the step of faith that grows your faith in 2024. There’s also step out and serve at this church. Shepherd’s Gate does a great job of stepping out into our community and serving those in need, whether it’s with our partner ministries, going down to Detroit and offering people a hot meal. We have¬†we have one partner that does showers for people that can’t even have a clean shower or clean body with they do mobile shower units and go out and we do food for the hungry, we do food pantries, we build ramps and decks for people’s houses when they need to get around and get out and about. You name it, we do it. Maybe Step Out is your next step for growing in your faith.

So there’s worship there, serving and finally there’s groups. We have a lot of groups that Shepherds Gate, we have Bible study groups. We have small groups, and we have social groups and our Bible study groups that meet midweek. Here’s a little list of them. In case you didn’t know what we have, we have Monday Night Men’s Group and Monday Night Women’s Group We also have a Thursday morning women’s group that is about 100 women. And it’s amazing. I’m here when they are meeting and they just they do it upright, they decorate their tables. There’s usually a huge breakfast and I’m almost always scarfing up some of that breakfast when I can. It’s so good. And then they break into smaller groups in their study so they can connect in community.

It’s really amazing. And then we have a 55 plus seniors group on Wednesday mornings and they’re doing some really good studies and they have another one planned for the early days of 2024. I can’t even mention how many life groups and social groups we have, but I’ll just give you an idea of lifegroups meet throughout our area and some meet here on campus, some meet weekly, some meet every other week. They get together to do life together, to just be in community and to study God’s Word and to hang out. We also have social groups. I’ll give a shout out to pickleball and pickleball players. They meet right here in the gym and they’re a great group. We also do boating. We’ve got book club, we have a new homeschool book club that’s going to meet once a month starting in 2024.

If you’re homeschool, a homeschool family and many more, it’s all on our app and website and you can easily sign request to join and the leader will connect with you. We have a lot of groups as we were getting as we were looking at the end of 2023, though, as a staff, we were looking at what we were doing specifically on Wednesday nights and we realized that what we were doing wasn’t working in terms of our midweek content as well as, as, as, as we used to. And so we wanted to find a way in 2024 to offer Shepherd’s Gate something new, something effective to help you take a step to grow in your faith, especially for families, because we understand that families are very busy and to create something that a whole family could come to and enjoy. And so in order to find out exactly what that would be, we did a programming survey, the programming survey in the last three months or so, just over 300 of you took it.

Did anyone take that survey here in this room? I’m sure, yeah. Many of you. Yeah. Thank you for doing that. And I wanted to share with you some of the results of that survey so you can see how we responded to that data. So I’m just going to throw some charts and graphs at you right now. We asked this question When you choose to participate in programming, what are the most important reasons for that choice? And you can see that a particular topic of study was important And I want to experience community and friendship with others, which that’s one of our words from our passage in a second. Peter, which is great. The top one. The top one was I want to grow in my faith perfect. I want to grow in my faith. You guys get it? That’s amazing. That is the reason we want to take a step of faith in 2024. And so many people said yes to that. I left it off for dramatic reasons. Share it with you. Here’s another graph.

It’s another way of asking what is important to you when you’re attending programing And again, so agreeing would be five stars and then it goes on down, four stars, three stars on down to the left, growing in my faith, by far the number one answer Excellent. We also found that a topic is of interest to you, which that’s important in a convenient day in time, which we’re all bit. We’re all very busy. That’s not going to change. Yes, a convenient day in time would be important. Speaking of that, we asked you what day would be most convenient and the Wednesday was the clear winner. So, Wednesday night is the most free day, Tuesday and Thursday being seconds. And then we asked, well, while you’re there, while you’re here at experiencing our programing what’s important to you? And this was interesting and able to connect with my friends. Good, important, very important and critical numbers. Coffee is served, refreshments are served and dinner is served.

Got very negative reviews. Now, explain that to me. I don’t understand that. So. So connecting with your friends is more important than coffee. I mean, that we must be a thriving church if that’s true. So that’s great. Anyway, so we did that survey and then that survey question, and then we asked in general what time is best in the evening? And it was clear 6 to 8 is the preferred time. And especially families got back to us and they said, look, we have to get our kids to bed. We don’t want it to be too late and earlier and time is better. And so we took note of that. Many of you made comments to that. And then finally we asked about the duration of any content that we would provide for you. How long of a class schedule would be ideal? And again, the greens, the yellows and the salmon is that salmon, let’s say, let’s say that salmon color, those were likely, very likely.

And I’m there and you can see 1 to 6 weeks got pretty good reviews in terms of the length of any program that we’d offer. Once we got the seven weeks and beyond, it trended more negative. And so we hear you shorter is better in this time where we are all very busy. And so we took all of this data and we thought about it. We thought about Wednesday nights in particular, and we’re going to do something new. So I’m going to introduce it to you. And it’s called we’re calling it midweek refresh, Main week refresh. We are gearing it towards families because we are going to have programing for nursery SGA kids, fifth and sixth grade, and then our junior and senior high program. So if you’re a family and you have any age group at all, you can come on Wednesdays and there will be something for every member of your family. We’re going to start with an open gym to have some fun in here and so the kids can run around. We’re also going to have multiple group studies, not just one study, but you said the topic is of interest to you. And so we heard you.

We’re going to offer many studies. Have a talk about that in a minute. And since food’s not important, we’re not and it is important, but we want it to be flexible. And so we’re going to do an ala carte grill during the open gym time. We’re still working out the details of that, but there will be an ability to get some food there for you if you want it. If not, if it’s not important to you, then don’t worry about it. Our new session is going to start on January 17th and go through February 28th. And so for those that are really quick on dates, you’re like, wait a second, at seven Wednesdays, Ash Wednesday is in the middle of that. So, we’re going to do a six-week session, six-week meetings with Ash Wednesday in the Middle so that it’s a bounded time, so it’s more approachable. There you can see the open gym is there. The studies will run from 6 to 730.

And then if you need to get your family home to bed, you can do it. Just leave and get them on the bed. But if you’re if your students are a little older and they want to hang out or you just want to talk and you don’t care about the bedtime so much, we’re going have open gym again at the end so your kids can play around and you can experience a little community. Very flexible. We’re trying to make it as flexible as we can. You can show up at six, you can show up at 530, you can show up at 545 whenever you like for the programming that starts at six. And then the final thing I want to share with you about the midweek refresh are the adult studies we’re going to offer not one, but six. And we’re very excited about these. The first three are coed. I am very excited about Financial Peace University.

If you haven’t heard about this course, this is a biblically based approach to financial management. And can we just agree that finances can be a difficult area in our lives and handling that spiritually? Maybe your step to grow in your faith next year is to take this course. Financial Peace University. It’s the only one that lasts nine weeks instead of six because that’s how long that course lasts. It’s well worth it. The second one is Bible 101. Maybe. Maybe your guest here, you’ve been coming for a little bit. Maybe you’re new in your faith or you want to take a step of faith and you want to study the Bible and apply it to your life, but you’re not really sure how to do that. Bible one on one is your answer. It’s going to talk about the construction of the Bible, how it’s all put together, how to study it, and how to apply it to your life, develop your leadership.

If you want to be a more of a leader in your family, in your career, in your work here at Shepherds Gate or wherever you are, this is a Christian approach to Bible based approach to developing your leadership, and that’s going to be a great course as well. Then for couples, the realities of marriage. Pastor Tim and his wife Lisa are going to teach this course. So if you’re a couple and you want to strengthen your marriage or strengthen your relationship, I’d encourage you highly encouraged to sign up for that one. And then we have a group just for young families. They’re going to do a study called Difference Maker. And so if you’re a family with grade school kids and you want to connect with other parents in that age or stage of life, that group is for you.

And then our single moms are also going to meet and do this study based on a great book called Get Out of Your Head. They’re going to meet on Wednesdays as well. So there’s that. And of course, the other courses that we offer midweek as well. Really excited about this. I want to just say to you that maybe this is your step, especially if you’re a family and maybe you’re in the habit of not going out anymore. Maybe the pandemic has kind of killed that for you and you haven’t gotten back to it. I want to encourage you to consider a mid-week refresh only six weeks. Maybe it’s your step. Maybe it’s your next step of faith now to sign up. Your kids don’t have to sign up at all. But if you’re going to attend a study, which I hope you do, then you just need to go on our app or a website. They’re all listed there, they’re all open.

You just request to join and the leader will get in touch with you about all of the details. Let me just end the way I began and ask a couple of questions. Are you satisfied with your spiritual development? Are you happy where you are or would you like to take a step of faith in 2024? It could be. Could it be that the reason that your life is not as prevailing, not as successful as you want it to be, is that you’ve neglected this spiritual connection? It’s easy to miss. Bowling is very concrete. Growing your faith on the surface of it does not seem concrete. But let me encourage you as I end. God has given us everything we need. He’s casting the seed of his word out to our hearts. Are you ready? Are you willing to take a step of faith in 2024 to receive that word, to receive the gifts that he is offering, that he is giving and grow your faith? I hope that you are willing find that one thing, find that thing and take a step.

You won’t regret it. Let’s pray. God, thank you so much for your word. Thank you that you have given us everything we need for our life to flourish and for our relationship with you. I pray that you would help us to receive this gift, that you would help us all to take a step in this next year to draw closer to you. Thank you so much for your word. In Jesus name, Amen.