WHAT A CHURCH WANTS — JESUS TO GROW IT
by Pastor Mike Fortune
February 17, 2007
“Houston, we have a problem.” Floating aimlessly in a small metal capsule hundreds of miles above the earth aboard Apollo 13, Commander James A. Lovell uttered this historic understatement April 14, 1979. Something had gone terribly wrong. Without enough oxygen or propulsion to get home safely, the spaceship crew and the team of NASA experts in Houston faced a great challenge. This episode would become either a great tragedy or NASA’s finest hour. That statement from space began the process of looking for creative solutions to a complex challenge.
Today, the church can say something similar I think. Heaven, we have a problem. But the good news is, the process of looking for creative solutions to a complex challenge is really pretty simple. And it is spelled out in the growing parable Jesus told Mark 4:26–29 [NIV] which reads, “26This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
“A man scatters seed on the ground.” So who’s the man? Long before “Show me the money!”, I remember guys like me screaming “Who’s the man?” on the playgrounds. In the 90's, the catchphrase was reinvented after Duke’s Shane Battier wore a T-shirt the Cameron Crazies wore to every basketball game he played and on the front it said, “Who’s your daddy?” And on the back it said, “Shane Battier” because Shane was having such a monster year he supposedly owned his opponents. Everyone that is except my Maryland Terrapins. Even in our worse year, we always beat Duke or gave them fits! I love those David versus Goliath story lines in college basketball and in life. For those of you unfamiliar with ESPN or sports catchphrases, bear with me, there is a point.
Verse 27 says, “27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Pop quiz: Are there some things Jesus doesn’t know? Seriously, are there some things He cannot explain? Colossians 1:16-18 [NIV] says, “16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church.”
So if Jesus created all things and holds all things together and is the head of the body and the church, how could He possibly also be the man scattering the seed in this story who hasn’t got a clue how it grows? He couldn’t be right? Which means the man has to be us. Jesus is telling a story about a guy like us! He wants us to understand what the kingdom of God is like. Previously, we talked about that. How Jesus promised to build the kingdom of God and that the church is actually people that God misses most inside and outside of its walls. Precious in His sight. That He’d rather die than spend eternity without. We talked about how He bought the church with His own blood at the cross. Which means He not only built it, but that He owns it. Whether it looks like a shack or a mansion, a tent or an RV, it matters not. For wherever we are in our journeys with Jesus, He is seeking us out, not the other way around, because He wants to live in us. The good news for today is once we understand that, even if we don’t yet know who we are, what we’re doing, or why we’re really doing it, Jesus will still grow in us! Why? Because living things grow. And growing things reproduce. These are my only two points today.
I don’t know how many of you folks have plants at home. We got any plant lovers in the house? I gotta tell you, Jackie and I are really happy to have 1 plant in ours. You guys gave it to us the day we moved in January 3rd. It’s a beautiful green house plant about this tall with big leafy green leaves. But I gotta say, when I first saw that thing, I was a little worried. I was thinking, “Uh oh. We got a plant. And it’s a nice one. How on earth are we gonna keep that thing alive?” Don’t get me wrong, I love plants. They put oxygen back in the air. Help us breathe. But I was really worried that we’d kill it in less than a month because Jackie and I apparently have no idea how to take care of it. We’ve had other plants, but with short life spans. One we gave too much water. And it drowned. One we gave too little. And it dried up and died. But this one seems to be doing just fine. But it’s not because I know what I’m doing! It’s because Jackie does. She is apparently giving it just the right amount of whatever it needs.
Jesus gives us what we need
And this is what Jesus does for us. Even when we don’t know it. Thank Him for it. Or give Him any glory. Once we’ve asked Jesus to mobile home with us, to come into our hearts and lives, and take over, He keeps giving us the right amounts of Himself—so that we can grow. And I’ll be talking in more detail about how that works starting Wednesday March 7 @ 7 so I hope you can come out for our 3 rd worship service and bring a friend or one of the 367 members of this church I haven’t met yet. But living things grow because Jesus gives us what we need. And what we need more than anything else is More About Jesus. Because as a Christian, you’re always either growing or dying. There are no other options. So choose life. Mark 4:27 [NIV] says, “The seed sprouts and grows.”
So we are the man. But Jesus is the seed. And living things grow because they receive the things it needs to sustain life. Which for a Christian is Jesus! Newsflash: the seed is a person not a grain! Genesis 3:15 says, “15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This is the first Messianic promise of Jesus. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, practically right away, God introduced the Gospel seed of Jesus Christ. Promising that the Truth and the Life is on the Way. And while its true, Jesus is no longer around roaming this earth in sandals, the things He said and the things He did as recorded in the Bible still are!
That’s why 1 Peter 1:23–25 [NIV] compares the Son of God with the Word of God. It says, “23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For, all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25but the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.” Jesus said something similar in John 6:63 [NIV], “63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” And in John 5:24 [NIV] He adds these encouraging words, “24I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Its interesting. The word for condemned in that verse is related in the Greek to the word for judgment in Romans 8. Which means, whatever else the Bible has to say about judgement, according to Jesus it has very little to do with those that have already passed from death to life! Which we’ll talk about another time.
We are qualified to do some work
But as we read this parable, I think there’s two things we need to highlight. First, can we all admit that we are all qualified to do some work? I mean, have a look at the prerequisites here. All it takes to do the work is being clueless and half asleep. The Bible says the farmer scattered seeds. Went to sleep. And didn’t know how it all grew. If you haven’t got a clue about God and what you do know puts you to sleep, you’re qualified! You’re hired! You’re just who He’s looking for! So we are all qualified to do some work. But secondly, the problem is we too often try to do God’s work instead of our own. So we’ll come back to that in a minute and try to straighten that out. But before we do, notice verse 27 says, “27Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” How many of you can fall asleep? Maybe I shouldn’t be asking that question during my sermon right? I had a teenager doing my powerpoint in my previous church who actually did fall asleep on me once in church while I was preaching, which was sort of awkward because I had to have someone wake him up in church to change the slide, but BLANK back there is doing a good job today. Way to go BLANK!
This week, Kathy sent me a funny email listing 5 things to say if you’re caught at your desk sleeping. In case that happens again, I want you to be prepared. So real quick, here’s what you could say. You ready? Number five, “They told me at the Blood Bank this might happen.” Number four, “This is just a 15 minute power nap they raved about in the time management course you sent me to.” Number three, “Whew! Guess I left the top off the Whiteout. You probably got here just in time.” Number two, “Did you ever notice sound coming out of these keyboards when you put your ear down real close?” And the number one best thing to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk. is “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I thought that was pretty funny. Especially since there is some real truth to that last one. Because Jesus is the one responsible when living things grow and “amen” really means “so let it be.” Don’t forget: the man in the parable is clueless and asleep on the job! So it HAS to be in Jesus’ name that living things grow! Isaiah 61:11 [NIV] says it this way. “11For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” Is it your job to make righteousness and praise spring up in your life? No! That’s God’s job.
Ecclesiastes 11:6 [NIV] says, “ 6Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ellen White said it this way, “We are to do our work, and leave the results with God” [Christ’s Object Lessons, p20]. God promised in Genesis 8:22 [NIV] “22As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
Make Jesus your priority night and morning
So we will always have a job to do. And Jesus describes our job in this growing parable of Mark 4 as casting out seed and spreading it around when we’re going to bed at night and before we’re rising in the day. And when we know the seed is Jesus, that means we make Jesus a priority at the beginning and end of each day. And when we do, the seed grows in us “all by itself.” The word translated “all by itself” in Mark 4:28 is automae in Greek. You can tell it’s where we get our word automatic. The man who sows the Jesus seed in the morning and the Jesus seed in the evening doesn’t even know how it happens. It just does. Because living things grow. And Jesus is alive. Isn’t that the whole point of Easter? I can’t wait for that worship service coming up April 7 so circle that on your calendar. But if we’re about our Father’s business, we can be confident we’ll grow too. Spiritually and numerically. Because our Christianity will be alive. And because God promised us it would. Isaiah 55:11 [NIV] says, “11So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Some of you know that Lydia just celebrated her 5 th birthday this week. We took her to the mall for a Build A Bear birthday. You guys seen this place? It’s amazing. You go in there and pick out a stuffed animal and once you do they put some stuffing and a heart and a voice box in there after you kiss it and hug it and promise to take good care of it. Then, they sew it all up right in front of your face. And then, there’s an entire half of the store devoted to dressing your new stuffed animal. Seriously! You can pick out shoes and hats and clothes and outfits and end up spending more on its clothes than all of yours combined! So Joshua and Lydia did that and nearly 2 hours later, we were on our way out complete with birth certificates, names, and accessories for their brand new stuffed animals. It was a wonderful birthday and one we’ll always remember. When Lydia turned 5 years old. Some of us may be surprised that God calls clueless sleepy people, but I think all of us already know that living things grow. Right? It’s common sense. Whether we’re talking about children. Plants. Or churches.
Living things grow and growing things reproduce automatically
Living things grow. But it’s the corollary to that statement this parable teaches where we have some issues. Which is growing things reproduce. Mark 4:28 [NIV] says, “First the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. And as soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Growing things reproduce. When we first got our dog a few years ago and introduced him to our neighbor’s dog, we had to be careful because Barkley is a 6 pound boy poodle and Lady was a 14 pound white fluffy girl dog of some kind and it was love at first sight. But not the agape kind of love if you know what I mean. It was more like National Geographic love back there. All the neighborhood kids came over and kept asking us all these embarrassing questions about why Barkley was dancing so funny with Lady all over the back yard. We didn’t know quite what to say to that. But what struck me is that even dogs understand that reproduction and growth is the automatic and normal response of intimacy! And here we bright Christians are still trying to figure it out! Have you seen how many shelves of books are devoted to Church Growth at the bookstore? It’s staggering!
So here’s the thing. We were created to enjoy intimacy with Jesus! When you give a little love, it all comes back to you. I was reminded of this spiritual truth while watching a Coke commercial of all things during the Super Bowl a couple weeks ago. Take a look.
So living things automatically grow. But growing things automatically reproduce. And it all comes back to you. And then the harvest. The bells rings. Health class is dismissed. In Jesus name Amen. Psalm 126:6 says it this way. “6He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” That’s where we get that hymn in our hymnal we’ll sing at the close today called “Bringing in the sheaves.” One author says it this way. “The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a beautiful figure of Christian growth. As in nature, so in grace” [Christ’s Object Lessons, p20]. As in nature, so in grace.
Our job is to get to know the Seed through the Word
Yes, we are all qualified to do some work. But too often we confuse God’s work with our own. That’s why 1 Timothy 6:12 [NIV] encourages us to, “12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” We’ve got to learn to fight the right fight! Our job is not to grow. That happens automatically. Our job is to get to know the Seed. We must fight the right fight if we want to be about our Father’s business because nobody can live on granola bars and fruit snacks. Nobody can live on steroids and growth hormones. You can’t substitute or circumvent your time with Jesus with books and seminars and tapes and even worship services as great and helpful as all those things are. 1 Peter said the seed of God is alive in the word of God. And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The seed is a person not a grain. And that seed is Jesus. And if we put as much time and effort into knowing Jesus as we do in defending Him, we would not have to worry about growing. Spiritually or numerically. Because living things automatically grow. And growing things automatically reproduce. And there’s nothing the gates of hell can do to stop the harvest. Which we’ll talk about next time. Do you see why it’s become so important to me that we tell the truth as it is in Jesus? I hope so. 1 Corinthians 3:6–7 [NIV] concludes, “6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
For our closing song today, let’s pretend we’re all farmers, armed with sickles in our hands as we stand and sing our closing song “Bringing In The Sheaves.”
Father in heaven, thank you for taking us as we are. Clueless and sleepy. And promising to do mighty things in our lives anyway. We are honored you chose us. And are overwhelmed by your enabling grace. We look forward to starting and ending our days with you this next week. In Jesus name we pray, so let it be. Amen.