THINGS REMEMBERED — LIVING THINGS GROW
by Pastor Mike Fortune
August 30, 2008
A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new BMW. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Beamer’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the car back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, 'What on earth do you think you’re doing? That's a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost me a lot of money. Why did you do it?'
The young boy was apologetic. 'Please, sir...I'm sorry but I didn't know what else to do,' He pleaded. 'I threw the brick because no one else would stop...' With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. 'It's my brother, 'he said 'He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can't lift him up.' Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, 'Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He's hurt and he's too heavy for me.'
Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. 'Thank you and God bless you,' the grateful child told the stranger.
Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair‑bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home. It was a long, slow walk back to the car. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him that living things grow. But that he was growing dead to the world.
Unlike that modern parable, the story Jesus told in Mark 4 doesn’t include a young and successful business executive in a Beamer. There is no child in a wheelchair. But the lesson it teaches us still hits us like a ton of bricks. So let’s go there and find the one thing worth remembering today. Because I believe God still whispers into our souls and speaks to our hearts. Reminding of us things we tend to forget. About the world. The church. And the broken hurting people living all around us. It’s just that sometimes, when we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. To remind us that this is what the kingdom of God is like.
So turn with me please to Mark chapter 4. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be studying 3 church growth principles embedded in these ancient parables Jesus told. One per week. The first one is found in Mark 4:1-20. So join us for Things Remembered and then shortly we’ll be diving back into the book of John and resuming our Life To The Dead series. So that’s the forecast.
But today, we’re in Mark 4. Verse 1 and following. I’m reading from the New International Version. “1Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. 2He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." 9Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 10When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that, " 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'" 13Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14The farmer sows the word. 15Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
Thy Kingdom come
This sounds like such a simple story. And it is. But it’s more than a story. It’s doctrine. It’s a principle of church growth. It’s what the kingdom of God on this earth is supposed to be like. We know this is true because the word in verse 2 to describe ‘His teaching’ literally means doctrine. He wants the disciples to grow up and go out to make Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:10 a reality. There He prayed, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ will was always that the kingdom would become a reality on this earth long before the New Jerusalem settles on it as Revelation 21 describes.
But sometimes, when I hang out for too long with too many Christians, I get the idea that they’re all content to wait for the 2 nd coming instead. It’s like they parked their brains at door of the church when they come in each week going through the motions ignoring the glaring needs for the kingdom to become a reality now on this earth all around them. Living things grow. But the church in North America is dead. We need to grow up and go out for Jesus sake. And the good news is, we serve a resurrected God who routinely wakes the dead.
Who will be inconvenienced?
But like the disciples in Mark 4, we tend to lose focus. And misunderstand the simplest of stories. Jesus asks us today in verse 13, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” There are people all around us in desperate need of Christ. Sure they may have heard His name, but they have yet to meet a Christian who lives His name. Who is willing to be inconvenienced. Who will give of their time. Who will simply be there for them. And invite them to follow that kind of Jesus.
Did you know there are tons of blind people? How many in Toledo I don’t know. Maybe someone can Google that and bring back the number for us. But did you know that blind people are some of the most lonely people out there? How cool would it be if some folks from Toledo First called Record Services for a list of blind people in Sylvania and went to their house to read them the headlines in the morning? Record Services will do that you know. They send pastors like me things in the mail all the time begging for people to call them to get the info they need to simply show up and show love to these people. I was even told that if you hire a blind person for a job, that our government will also pay for you to hire another non blind person to help them do their job. So perhaps we should hire a blind youth pastor and we’ll get 2 for the price of 1!!! I’m just joking. Hopefully no one is offended. Besides, Rachel is getting over her malaria now and has decided to join us as Youth Pastor here in Toledo First. So we can rejoice about that today. And get you more details on her pending arrival soon. She got malaria serving the poor in the streets of Calcutta a few weeks ago. Wait until you hear her story! She’s another pastor who longs to see the kingdom of God on earth long before Jesus comes again.
But this week I was reminded that not all pastors feel that way. This last week I went to a meeting where I was the only pastor present in a room full of businessmen, CEOs, Presidents of large companies. Jim Lange invited me. I met him at a Prayer Breakfast last May. His email asked: “Are you a business owner, President, CEO, or General Manager who could benefit from the insight and counsel of other business owners who will help you make business and personal decisions from a Biblical perspective?” And while I don't own a company, I checked off on their survey that I did because I am committed to being about "my father's business" [cf. Luke 2:49]! So I show up and discover after each of us took 30 seconds to introduce ourselves and explain why we’re there that I’m the only pastor in the room. Pastors are as guilty of not growing and going as anyone else. And what this group is all about is getting business men, 71% of whom according to Barna don’t go to any church on any day on any weekend, to have spiritual conversations at work instead. And I was shocked to be honest that no other pastors felt joining this group would be a good idea. So please don’t leave here saying, “Well, Pastor Mike hit us with a ton of bricks today alright. I feel all dented up inside. But he didn’t include himself in that beat down did he.”
No, I admit it. We pastors get carried away in all kinds of stupid stuff that we think is growing the kingdom of God on earth. Some people would say fantasy football is one of those things. But I would vehemently disagree. That’s right people. Pastors play fantasy football. In fact, I play in 3 leagues which in my college days would have doomed my GPA. Because back then I had friends who would literally scour the box scores of the Sports page on Mondays and Tuesdays and add up all the statistics from the players they drafted or were given for their teams. But before I go any farther with this modern parable, let me explain to the rest of you what fantasy football really is.
Fantasy football is a fantasy sports game in which participants (called "owners") are arranged into a league. The person who creates the league is called the commissioner, and that person invites other owners into his/her league. Each team drafts or acquires via auction a team of real‑life American football players and then scores points based on those players' statistical on‑the‑field performances each week are added together to determine the winner. At the end of the year, win‑loss records determine league rankings or qualification into a playoff bracket. Most leagues set aside the last weeks of the regular season for their own playoffs.
But aside from the petty cash, trophy, and bragging rights, the reason I do it is because I have yet to find a more accountable predominantly male group that consistently meets every fall for 5 anywhere else. Maybe this Business Roundtable group will trump my fantasy football small groups. We’ll see. But in the meantime, you know what? I wish the church was at least as active as the guys in my fantasy football league. Why? Because fantasy football, if you join the right group, it’s like a small group online for men. Where else can you experience that level of intimacy. And honesty. And accountability. You miss the draft on Saturday night? You hear about! You don’t set your line up each week? You hear about it. You neglect the message board and fail to interact with the other 11 teams in your group, you hear about it. When was the last time someone from church, not the pastor, when was the last time someone from church or your Sabbath School class, or someone in your Circle group called and threw a brick at you?
“Hey, where were you on Saturday night? I missed you!” “Hey, we have 150 active worshipers of this church. Why do only 25 of you show up for business meeting?” “Hey, we’re gonna help Ty Pennington with his Extreme Home Makeover coming to Toledo next week. Why didn’t you sign up?” “Hey, we all chose one blind person to read the morning headlines. Are you going to sign up too?” “Hey, you haven’t worshiped the King of the Universe all summer long. You’ve either got some serious vacation time saved up or your priority isn’t God anymore is it?”
Grow up and go out
Jesus said, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.” And apparently, the disciples, the followers of Jesus in this case, were on the outside! I never realized that before when I read this parable. Jesus was throwing a brick at them. He was saying, “Hey, I’m talking to you. To you guys in this church. Living things grow. Are you alive?” If not, it’s time to grow up and go out in Jesus name. The kids are back to school and it’s time to be more accountable. To each other. And to Me. And besides, sometimes the only way to feel love again is to show love again.
And showing love is hard to do. Especially when the love bounces off some really rocky soil. You know Jesus is describing 4 kinds of soul soil I this parable. The first kind in verse 5 says it landed on some rocky soil symbolic of the shallow people out there. And in here. Where the overwhelming love of God gets planted like a seed in our hearts. And immediately it grows. But because we’re so vain and shallow and fiercely independent, we don’t get accountable for our relationship with Jesus and we wither and die. Nobody comes knocking on our door. Nobody even misses us when we’re gone. And the kingdom of God becomes a fantasy instead of a reality.
God forbid! Because living things grow! Jesus says other seeds fall among the thorns in verse 7 which grow up and get choked the plants so they did not bear grain. And grain is what the farmer wanted to harvest. The farmer is not satisfied with a field full of soy. He wants the beans in the soy right? Where would Adventists be without soybeans? Have mercy! Yet our Adventist churches are full of plants that bear no grain. Soy with no beans. Just because you’re growing up doesn’t mean you’re going out. Jesus is challenging us to do both. Yes, study the prophets. And the Psalms. The Gospels. And the letters to the churches. Grow in grace. Learn more and more about Jesus. But if that’s all your group ever does, you’re soil #2.
Living things grow
A few years ago when I went to Asia, I saw all kinds of primitive Christianity. People living in huts with no floors. Children with no shoes. Churches with no roofs. They literally gathered together and sat cross legged on the floor on the front porch of the pastor’s house. They couldn’t put a steeple on it because then it would be a church and buildings were illegal in Communist Laos. So they met on the porch. And they woke up and went out before sunrise to walk, since nobody has cars, they woke up before sunrise on Sabbath mornings to walk miles and miles and miles so they could worship together as a community praising God for His mighty acts before they’d turn around and go home all before the hottest part of the day began at 10am. And they would bring their family and friends with them. The church in Cambodia is growing and going not because they have any money. But because they are alive. Living things grow.
But too often in the West, where we live, as verse 19 says, “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word making it unfruitful.” What chokes the word? What prevents us from growing and going and living? The deceitfulness of wealth. And the desire for other things. Wouldn’t it be cool if all us drove cars with dents in it? Yeah, I could get that fixed. But I’d rather sponsor 2 more kids in Mission College, Thailand. They were Budhist a few weeks ago. But just recently accepted Jesus and now one of them wants to become a pastor and tell all his family back home in the foothills of some mountain all about how Jesus makes you grow. That’s a real example. I’ve been to Mission College. I’ve preached there. They contacted me earlier this summer about sponsoring 2 college kids for a few thousand dollars. And it breaks my heart that I don’t have the money to do so. Or maybe I do have the money, but I’m driving it around town dent free instead. I don’t know. I’m just asking the same question Jesus raises in verse 19. Are the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things choking my growing and going? Only you can answer that question.
But when they’re not. And there’s plenty of bean on the soy. Look at what Jesus promises will happen. Verse 20. “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
Living things grow. By leaps and bounds. Which doesn’t make sense. Because if you plant so many seeds, you should get so many plants. But not so in the kingdom of God. If you plant one seed in the Kingdom of God, it could yield 100 plants! Growing and going for Jesus’ sake is one of the safest investments you’ll ever make with your time and treasure.
Some of you are on the right path. But are getting eaten alive. You’re right. The church is not a safe place. The people inside it are as broken and hurt as the people outside it. But don’t give up on them. Because Jesus has a brick for them too! Just let him be the one to do the throwing.
Some of your soil is shallow and somewhere along the path, you stopped growing. You came to Christ. Grew up in Him. And then for some lame reason you can’t even remember anymore, you withered on the vine. Don’t give up. Keep growing. By faith believe that God can resurrect in you a relationship with Him. He loves you like crazy. And He wants to spend time with you. Join a Circle group and get accountable for your life. Most people are scared to share because they have nothing to share. So fill yourself up. Dig in His word. And iron will sharpen iron.
Others of us are like 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. Keep going. Open your eyes to the broken hurting world all around you. Serve with no strings attached. Give up nothing. Even if the organ plays and there is an altar call. Offer nothing until you clearly see that God gave offered up everything for you. And then crack open your check book and break the bank for the things that is breaking the heart of God. Showing love is sometimes the only way you can begin to feel love. Living things grow. This is something worth remembering. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”