THINGS REMEMBERED — GROWING THINGS REPRODUCE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 6, 2008
Introduction: YouTube: The Story of a Sign
Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it. That’s what the young banker wrote on the homeless guy’s sign in that video clip. Those were the words that dramatically increased people’s willingness to put more coins in the beggars cup.
But he isn’t the only person blinded by what they cannot see. A beautiful actress dined one night in a famous restaurant in Malibu, California. She was fearfully insecure, often breaking into tears and hives from nervousness. It took her six hours in make up for her part in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Before she left the restaurant, she was asked to sign the guest register. After she wrote her famous name, Marilyn Monroe, she hesitated for a moment over her address, but at last wrote: “Nowhere.” The next day she tried once again to cope with her glamorous life going nowhere. But that next day, lost in the confusion pills and alcohol yield, she died. Sadly reminding us that only living things grow. And only growing things reproduce.
That’s what we’re going to be talking about today so I encourage you to open your Bibles to the 2 nd of 3 church growth principles Jesus shares in the parables of Mark 4. Last time, we talked about verses 1-20 and how some of us are on the right path, the right track, but like the seed that bounces off the hard packed soil of the path, we’re bouncing around getting blown about by the wind and getting eaten alive by the world. We need deeper roots and more community in better soil.
But some of us are like seeds in rocky shallow soil. Somewhere along the path, we believed in God. Maybe even started a relationship with Jesus. And then for some lame reason you can't even remember anymore, we withered on the vine because there were too many rocks in our path. Too many obstacles. To you I want to say: Don't give up. Keep going and growing. By faith believe that God can resurrect in you a relationship with Him.
Others of us are like the seeds growing up in that thorny soil. Being choked by the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things. Don't beat yourself up. Jesus loved rich people too. In fact, some of his most faithful followers were wealthy. People like Zaccheus. And Matthew. And Nicodemus. So give up nothing. Even if the organ plays and there is an altar call or the Mastercard logo flashes on the lower portion of your TV screen after the pastor is done preaching. Give up nothing until you clearly see that God gave up everything for you. And then when you realize that, crack open your check book and break the bank. Do so for those less fortunate than you. Do so for all the broken and hurting people blinded by the harsh reality of an evil world. Do so because showing love is sometimes the only way you can begin to feel love.
But finally, others of us are like seeds cast on fertile soil. Notice it’s not us that is fertile. We know this is true because the same seeds that landed on the path, the rocky soil, or thorny soil were just as fertile. Held just as much potential. But they didn’t grow or reproduce themselves. So this parable is all about the garden and the Gardener, not the growing seed.
There’s nothing in us that makes us more likely to grow. Without Jesus, we’re all going nowhere. But with Jesus, all things are possible. We serve a God who once was dead, but now is alive for ever more. Our only point last week was: Living things grow. Our only point this week is: Growing things reproduce. These are things worth remembering. Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” So let’s dive into Mark 4 beginning in verse 26.
“Jesus 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.”
The Holy Spirit gives new life
Mark alone records the parable of the Growing Seed we’re looking at today. It illustrates the same mysterious truth that Jesus told Nicodemus in the middle of the night in John 3:6. “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
And just as Nicodemus, a respected Jewish leader and teacher of the law didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about, the disciples didn’t either. And sometimes, neither do we. So like Abraham, we try to manufacture growth. Remember him? God said he was gonna be the father of many nations. Genesis 17:6 describes how God changed his name from Abram to Abraham meaning father of many nations. But Hebrews 11:6 says he died before he saw that promise completely fulfilled. Can you image how awkward introductions were for him in the meantime? “Hi, I’m Mike. One who is like God.” “Hey, nice to meet you Mike.” “I’m Abraham. Father of many nations.” “Really nice to meet you Abraham, so how many children do you have anyway?” “Well, uh, none right now. But we think the 1 st will be here before I turn 100.” So what does Abraham do? He repeatedly endangers the wife who was supposed to be the mother of his children and after she doesn’t bear any, marries her maidservant instead.
Another patriarch who tried to manipulate growth and reproduction was Jacob. When Jacob married Leah, Jacob’s other wife Rachel [long story, we won’t go there today], Rachel says take my servant and have sons through her since my womb is barren. You can read about this in Genesis 30. So Jacob flies off the handle and into a rage saying, “Am I God? He is the only one able to give you children!”
At least he got that part right. Living things grow. And growing things reproduce. But God is responsible for both. We may be able to birth babies and clone sheep, but only God can make them grow. I’m reminded of the truth of this when Lydia’s wiggly front teeth refuse to fall out. And when all babies eventually develop knee caps. Did you know babies don’t have knee caps? Who knew? I didn’t! Maybe that’s why C.S. Lewis entitled his autobiography Surprised By Joy. In God’s kingdom, there are always pleasant surprises. The kingdom of God should be a pleasant surprise because we don’t know how God grows it!
“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.” Having planted the seed, the farmer goes about his business. But the process of growth goes forward regardless of his presence or absence. Whether he is asleep or awake. We may cultivate and irrigate the seed as it grows to maturity, we may feed and water it, but we cannot make it grow. Verse 28 poorly translated says, “All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”
Churches grow when Jesus lives inside the people
The word for “all by itself” in Greek is automae from which is derived our word “automatic.” Living things grow and growing things reproduce automatically. Every growing Christian or church reproducing what God is like in their families and community are doing so not because they have the coolest pastor. The greatest music. Or the best technology. My trip to Cambodia a few years ago taught me those lessons. Churches cannot manufacture growth and reproduction of other Christians any better than Abraham or Jacob could. Growing churches grow because God is growing in them. Galations 2:20 says “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” A church is nothing but a bunch of people with Christ living in them. Churches grow because the people inside them have Jesus living inside them. Does that make sense yes or no? Churches don’t grow because people don’t have Jesus living inside their lives. So before we close today, I’ll cover 3 simple steps to make sure we have Jesus living inside our lives so get a pen ready to write them down. But that’s what this church growth parable is reminding us. Living things grow. And growing things reproduce. Because Christ is living inside them.
But what does that look like when Christ is living inside them? Are there ways we can see that kingdom seeds have been successfully planted and are growing in us? Well that’s a good question. And I believe it’s answered in Acts 2. There you see the church huddled together on the day of Pentecost. All the believers meeting together in one place. A mighty Holy Spirit wind fills the house. People start talking more and more about Jesus and the Gospel starts making more sense to all kinds of people. More and more questions are raised than answered. And then Acts 2:12 says, “They stood there amazed and perplexed. What can this mean?” It means one of the signs of kingdom growth is the growing place has lots of people asking lots of questions. That’s a good thing.
Jesus is topic #1
Acts goes on to describe another sign that kingdom seeds are growing and being reproduced in your life and in your church and that is when all of sudden someone asks you why you keep talking about Jesus all the time? It’s 9am people! Some people haven’t even finished their coffee yet and you’re already talking about the difference Jesus makes in your life. But you can’t help it. Because you have an insatiable desire to talk more and more about Jesus. At night. During the day. Even at 9am Monday morning! People barely awake talking about Jesus. People talking in their sleep about Jesus.
And then, if you just read the paragraph titles of the following pages in Acts, you’ll find even more loony tune signs of Kingdom growth and reproduction. The Bible says some of the folks sold everything they had and gave it to the people in the church who had need. Now THAT is crazy right?! But that’s what they did! Mary gave me permission to tell you that her home desperately needs some new flooring and her sink and bathroom isn’t working right and there were some other water damage issues going on in her home that needed some desperate need. So Greg Bundy went over there and took a look this last week and says for $900 he can fix it all up. So I say we collect a special offering today and if you’re not prepared to give today, come prepared next week, so Mary’s home becomes functional again. We’ve got someone to fix it up. But we need $900 outside the church budget because I’ve basically spent all the money we have on outreach already. So who’s going to help make that happen? Deacons, please have some plates by the lobby doors.
The Bible says in Acts 2:42-43 that they also met together in their homes and watched Monday night football. Just joking. I wish it said that. But it says they met together in Acts 2:43 and a deep sense of awe came over them all. It says, catch this, Acts 2:46 that they worshiped together at the Temple each day AND since that was so much fun they met in each other’s homes when they were done. All the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.
And then Acts 2:47 adds one more characteristic to the crazy kind of Kingdom seed God plants. “The Lord added daily to their group those who were being saved.” So to recap, the signs of healthy kingdom seeds taking root in the church is the church becomes a safe place to ask questions. More people talk about more and more about Jesus @ 9am on a Monday than they do on Saturday. More and more people come to church and gather in homes. People sell what they have to give those in need. There are more and more people publicing saying yes to following Jesus that are added daily to the church. And lastly, it becomes a place where unity is not uniformity.
Don’t forget, these folks were unified in essential beliefs, not every belief. If you don’t believe me, skip ahead to Acts 15 where many of these same unified believers are arguing about circumcision and food. Unity is not uniformity. That’s another positive sign that kingdom seeds are being planted and are growing.
So look around people. Do you see cookie cutter Christians or plenty of diversity? Are we talking more and more about Jesus? On Saturdays and Mondays? Is it okay to ask questions here? Would we sell what we have to help those who have not? Can we hardly wait till we meet again? Are more and more people gathering for worship at church and in homes? Are people publicly choosing to follow Jesus and daily being added to the church. If not, why not? Are we asleep? If some of us still are, that’s okay. For now. Because all that means is we’ve got a few more folks extremely qualified to become Kingdom seeds. Why?
Because our teaching today reminds us that God does some of his best work when we’re fast asleep! “Whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows night and day.” Isn’t that the lesson Eve’s creation taught Adam in Genesis 2:21? The Bible says God had Adam fall into a deep sleep. A post Creation coma. And while he was sleeping, God took one of Adam’s ribs to make Eve and closed up the place from which he had taken it. Men had nothing to do with the Creation of women. It was all God. If you’re asleep, all that means is you’re completely qualified for God to use you! And now I’d like to close by sharing those 3 ways can we make ourselves available for God to grow and reproduce His kingdom seeds in us.
Pray, Read, Share
They can be remembered not by the abbreviation PMS, but PRS and they stand for Pray, Read, Share. How can you make your home in God’s kingdom on this earth and in the one to come? By praying a simple prayer of invitation. You ask Jesus to come into your life. You believe the truth about yourself. And about Him. You confess your need of Him. That you may not have it all together, but that with Him, you’ll have it all. And when you begin each day, you say that prayer. Thanking him for a new day. Inviting Him into your life to help you live it. And that this day by faith, Jesus is enough for you.
So you pray that prayer. Silently. With words. Whatever. It’s not a formula. It’s about a heart ache. And a willingness to open yourself up to someone infinitely more compassionate and loving than you have ever known. Then, you share that decision with someone else. Preferably someone on the right path. Someone deep. Not shallow. Someone growing not withering on the vine. Someone you can be accountable to and honest with. Could be your spouse. Could be someone else as long as they have prayed the same prayer.
But share that prayer. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you don’t know who to talk to about this, talk to me! If you don’t want to talk to me, ask God to send someone into your life for you to share that prayer. And He will. God delights in divine introductions. And once you’ve prayed that prayer and shared that prayer, start reading the Bible for a relationship instead of research.
This book contains all kinds of jaw dropping stories and amazing insights and powerful illustrations of ways you could live your life and still not know Jesus. But read for a relationship with God instead of merely research, then it becomes something altogether different. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to try it. Read the Gospel of Mark. Or my fave book the Gospel of John. Not to fill in the blanks. But to be fulfilled by the living Christ. And see if the Jesus inside those pages doesn’t change you too.
Depending on man to build up the church and the people in it is like building your house on shifting sand. The rain comes and destroys the whole house. But obeying God and trusting Him to build the church and the people in it is like building your house on solid rock. When the rains come, it stands firm. In this parable, Jesus described it this way in verse 29. “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
I didn’t realize when I read this the first time that the word in verse 29 to describe “putting the sickle to it” is apostello. It’s where we get the word for “apostle.” And means one who is sent forth.
|The work of the church therefore is to go forth. Praying. Reading. And sharing what God has already done for us and is already doing in us. Daniel Hall drew me a picture yesterday illustrating what that looks like to him. You can see the cross of Jesus is much bigger and more significant to him than that of the crosses for the thieves crucified beside him. But the cross of Jesus is also a compass. And a compass is something that helps you find your true north. It helps you find your way home. Daniel is not going nowhere. He knows his address. And though he’s only ? years old, kingdom seeds are already growing in him and being reproduced in him. Why? Because living things grow. And growing things automatically reproduce.|
My prayer for us today is that, like Daniel, we will not abandon God. But that we will continue to abandon ourselves to God. Asking Him to help us see the beauty of each day. Lived simply and sincerely by faith. In the joy of the resurrected Christ. Is that your desire? Amen. So let it be.