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April 5, 2019, 12:00 PM

The Synergy of Discipleship

The Parable of the Sower – The Synergy of Discipleship

Mark 4:1-20

            Well, by now you all know I love soccer. I have so much fun just kicking the ball around with Bryar, but man that kid wears me out! I am so out of shape. I’m worried about keeping up with this little team of 2 & 3 graders I’m gonna coach. But is gonna be so much fun. I’m so looking forward to coaching again. Maybe sometime you can all come out and cheer us on.


            We’re going to be practicing right here at the church. We’ve got goals and I mean the kind with nets. We’re gonna put those up right out there in the yard. I have mentioned before they were purchased as a sendoff gift by our previous church where I ran the Upward Soccer program. Now the goals cost about $800. Western Hills paid $700 of that.


          So, it was approved at the business meeting this past week that as a church we invest $100 to help get this thing started. Now it’s not Upward soccer --- yet. But who knows what it might grow to. Well one person does. (point up) And He’s got the plan. So let’s just trust Him and enjoy the ride. We’ve got a thank you card on the table back there, I’d really like all of you to sign it to send to Western Hills for their support. It was more than generous of them.




            Now as part of our series, we’ve been walking through the four key words of our mantra – love, know, live, grow. Today we’re going to wrap it up with the last of the four words – grow. I can’t think of Scripture that’s more fitting than the Parable of the Sower? That’s our Scripture today, Mark 4:1-20. It plugs in perfectly to our core belief that God’s mission to grow His church by discipling through His Gospel is our main role in His kingdom. And it fits pretty well too since we’re a farming community. Right Russell?


            This parable is found in all three synoptic Gospels, but I like Mark’s version for today’s message because of the context. Mark lays out Jesus’s message here in such a way, that consecutive parables all roll together to reinforce the image of God’s kingdom. And they reiterate our call to be good stewards of God’s Word and to spread His Gospel. With this kind of reemphasis I’d say Mark’s making the point that it’s a pretty important part of God’s plan. In fact, it’s exactly His plan. So let’s read, Mark 4:1-20.

                Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

                “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil.

                And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

                        And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word.

                And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

                        And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

                And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

                But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

            We see the landscape of Jesus’s setting. His crowds had grown larger and were becoming more and more demanding of Him. Pushed back by the masses who’d come to hear His teaching, He steps back into a boat to gain some separation and a higher perspective of the crowd. He probably taught this way often as crowds would gather when He approached from the sea. He was quite the celebrity you know. People loved to hear what He had to say. They just didn’t like to apply it to their lives.


            So He hit them hard with the opening word, “Listen!” The Greek word here akouo means to hear or to understand. But it also means to act – to respond to what is heard. So Jesus is saying in this one word; hear what I am saying and do something with it. Don’t just walk away.

            This same command to “hear” is also the first word in the Shema, the confession of faith that those that were faithful to Jewish tradition would recite every day. So Jesus was making the connection with those listening that His words on the shore that day are fluid with the words of God to Israel in the past.

            This whole idea of hearing is key to understanding all of Jesus’s parables, but He emphasizes it here heavily, because this story is really all about how the Word is heard. The sower sows, but the hearer determines how the message will be received and responded to.

            Each of the soils hears the word, but reacts differently and Jesus is trying to make a powerful point to His listeners. Everyone may listen, but not everyone is going to catch what He’s saying. For too many, His words go in one ear and out the other; right over their heads. So He’s telling them to pay attention. This is important.

            If we look at this parable literally today, we might think at first what kind of farmer of any capacity whatsoever is going throw seeds willy nilly on a pathway, on rocky terrain, and among thorn bushes. But in the context of Jesus’s day and the broadcast method of sowing on the rough Palestinian soil, sowing often preceded plowing and the seed would literally fall everywhere, including all those places Jesus mentioned. So the story really resonated with those listeners.


            Now what we know about Jesus’s teaching is this. Just like the seed in His parable, Jesus would give the crowds the story. He would throw it out for them to discern and process for their own understanding.  But then He’d take His disciples aside and explain it to them to make sure they got the point.


            And it’s in His explanation to them in this Scripture that we not only can understand the relationship to His earlier metaphorical language, but the truth in what He’s saying. Simply put, what He’s explaining to His disciples then, He’s explaining to us today.


            Not everyone is going to hear and receive the message. Jesus KNEW that when He spoke to the crowds. He knew it about the crowd He had in front of Him that day.

            Some He knew some would hear His words, then walk away, and Satan would pick them off one by one, because they just really didn’t get it at all. They were just there for the show. Others would hear His words and they’d be excited, but it would be short lived, because they had no spiritual depth.


            His words inspired them, but they didn’t absorb them as words of transformation or real heart change and when things got tough, they’d just fizzle out. When their faith was challenged by adversity, they’d give in to the moment. Instead of looking back and finding truth in what he’d said, they would turn against Him and blame Him for their own lack of faith. 


            And others would just shrug off what He said and then just go back to the life of sin they were living before, consumed by the world and earthly riches, things that oppose and choke out the Word. It’s so easy to lose sight of truth and get sucked into a world that’s smeared with the filth of Satan’s lies and immorality and corruption.

            But there would always be those that got it; those that were fertile and ready; hungry for the truth. They understood His message; ready to take it to the next level and become fruitful, growing in their own lives and sharing that fruit with others.

            We’re all one of these soils. Did you hear yourself in one of those descriptions? But we’re all here today, because we want to be that good soil that’s fruitful and synergizes thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold. We want that for our life. We want that for our kids. We want it for our families; our friends. But it can be so hard to cross that line and be transparent with our faith.


            It’s easier to let it slide and let somebody else share the Gospel. It’s more comfortable to live in our own little world and just not create waves. It’s so much cooler to hang out with friends who do fun stuff and have neat toys and go to exciting places. The world works so hard at drawing us away from the truth and whitewashing Christ’s command to go and make disciples.

            One of the biggest hurdles we have in sharing the Gospel is our fear of rejection. And those hurdles are exactly what make us weak in the knees when it comes to sharing our story. But once we break those chains that bind us, sharing the gospel becomes a whole new ball game and the more we share, the bolder we become.


            How many of you remember your very first seventh grade dance. I don’t know about you, but I was petrified. Not only was I afraid to ask a girl to dance, even though there was one I liked --- a LOT! I was afraid one was going to ASK me to dance. I was scared to death. Finally I remember, Jocelyn Ambroske asked me to dance. Totally not the girl I liked, but I was shaking too bad to turn her down, even though she was a foot taller than me.


            So we went out on the floor and did the typical seventh grade slow dance thing, which I still do by the way, just turn in circles go around as slow as possible without stepping on her toes. It wasn’t long til I realized my head was resting on her shoulder and I’m thinking somehow this should be the other way around.


            I was so glad when Larry Miller tapped me on the shoulder and stepped in. But after that traumatic night, it all became easier. Got to the point where I’d only get off the dance floor just to ask another girl. Didn’t even care if that one said no, I’d just go to the next one. Well that might be a slight exaggeration, but that’s I began to feel.


            That’s the way it is with the Gospel. Jesus knew not everyone would accept His message the first time, or the second time --- maybe not at all. He knew He would be rejected. But did that stop Him? Did it stop Paul or the apostles? Should it stop us? Not if we love Jesus. When you have someone that you truly love aren’t you just proud and want to show that person off?


            Your new spouse, your new baby, your grandson, daughter, even a new car… you don’t keep that baby in the garage. Don’t you want to tell everyone you meet about that special someone? You can’t hold it back. You’re bursting at the seams. You plaster it all over Facebook and Instagram. That makes it official. You’ve just got to tell everybody. That’s the way it should be with Jesus. Exactly the way.

            Reminds me so much of Paul and what he says For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Cor 9:19-23).”

            In other words He adapted to whatever circumstances or context he was in to get the message out. He knew his mission. He also knew he would be rejected, hated and persecuted by many, because that’s what Jesus had said. But he also knew he was going to impact some.


            We hear so much about the Chinese church and how it is exploding. And we think that’s awesome and it is. The Gospel is spreading like wildfire in a Communist nation engrained with atheism. But have you seen the latest headlines in the Christianity Today magazines?

            “China Tells Christians to Replace Images of Jesus with Communist President.” “China Bans Zion, Beijing’s Biggest Church.” “China Mulls Major Restrictions on Online Ministries.” “China Closes Megachurches Before Christmas.” “China Shuts Down Another Big Beijing Church.”


            We’ve mentioned briefly in this series the oppression and persecution Christians in the US seem to feel. We don’t know persecution --- yet. What Chinese Christians are facing is real persecution on the level of the early church. They face death or imprisonment every day for their love of a Lord that has changed their lives and has given them real hope in a dark, dark land.


            And it’s in the face of that persecution that the Chinese Church is growing, exponentially; not despite the persecution, but because of it. And then we see images of those 21 Egyptian men lined up to be beheaded by ISIS for their faith in Jesus. What change! What courage! It reminds us of those early Christians, devoured by lions or butchered by gladiators.


            It reminds of Paul who was beheaded; Peter who was crucified upside down; Stephen who was stoned to death. And all the others who died willingly for their faith. It’s been said that America’s faith is weak, because we don’t face persecution that causes us to rely on Christ. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

            You and I, we make choices every day, every time we have a chance to stand up for our faith or to share the Gospel, but we think our life doesn’t depend on it. So many times we just let the moment slide. Maybe we pray that somebody else will step in or we just bury the moment.

            But are we right or wrong in our thinking? What does Jesus say, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven (Matt 10:53).” When we just walk away from that moment, aren’t we denying Him? When we think about life, we’ve got to start thinking in terms of eternity, not just this little blip of time we have here on this earth.       


            The only real ‘opp’ression we truly feel in this country is the ‘supp’ression we place on our own words and actions in the name of Jesus. When we don’t speak out we let Him down. When we don’t live a life that’s marked by intentionality and a commitment to share the Gospel, we are failing God’s mission for our lives.

            When we don’t live lives that transparently put Christ on display in our words and our actions, we are denying Him before others. We’re letting the WORLD dictate our behavior, instead of our LOVE for Jesus being the motivator. When accountability to God is not our measure of success in this world, we’ve given in to worldliness and Satan’s lies.


            Mark rolls into another parable, again comparing the things of God to the everyday world of the farmer, “And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).”                        Just like the sower in our Scripture, the farmer casts his seed and then goes on about his life. The farmer doesn’t know how it works. He doesn’t need to. He trusts God for that.

            There are many aspects to this parable, but the value for today’s message is in the sowing. What are we called to as Christians? We are called to sow God’s Word; to evangelize. “Go unto all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:10).” AND we’re called to disciple. Just like Jesus says here, we are called to scatter the seed, that’s evangelism. That’s spreading the word; getting it out and letting the Holy Spirit work in lives, convicting and changing hearts. That’s His work. Our work is to make contact with our brothers and sisters and spread the Gospel of our Lord.  

            But Jesus defines our real mission in His Great Commission, which we all know by heart. And even if we don’t know every single word of the Scripture, we know very well the core of what He’s saying to us. Go make disciples.  And that plays out in this parable too, “when the grain is ripe, the harvest has come.”


            The farmer has nurtured his crop. He’s seen to it that there was sufficient water and nutrients for it to grow. He’s kept the animals out, so it can be ready for harvest. That’s the nature of discipling. Sow the seeds. Share the gospel yes, but when you find the one that’s ready to grow, take time for the walk. Mentor, teach, share your life. Pour yourself and your passion for Jesus into that new believer. And then what happens? That new believer takes the passion you’ve poured out and he becomes the teacher; the mentor. A disciple creates other disciples…             who create other disciples…            who create other disciples…            and so on.


              That’s the synergy of discipleship. Remember what I said about synergy a couple of weeks ago. When we come together with Christ – seek His guidance – and form a synergy of our actions and ideas for His kingdom work, the growth from that becomes exponential and that’s Christ’s vision for His church. 

            The bottom line in God’s kingdom; It’s not about how many people are sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. It’s about how many are out sharing His gospel of love and growing His kingdom throughout the week! Come to church. Worship. Fellowship. Get recharged. Renewed. But then GO! That’s exactly what we’re called to as Christians.  


            In God’s work, as leaders what are we trying to do? How should we be trying to lead? How did Jesus lead? Did He try to do it all by himself? Absolutely not. He led. He taught. He empowered.  Empowerment is at the heart of discipleship. But what does that require? It all goes back to humility.


            If we’re not willing as leaders to teach, to train, then to let go and empower, then we’re not leading – at least not the way Christ taught. As believers our joy should come in seeing others flourish in Christ and in that realization God is glorified. That’s growth. Growth for the leader and growth for the disciple.


            How many of us can honestly say we can do it that way? Give our SELVES up so others can grow? How many of us would rather say, “I did or I accomplished or I made?” I’m challenged with that every day. My old self creeps in tries to press down what I know is right. Give ME the credit. I want the glory and the praise.


            How many of us face that battle in everything we do? It always comes down to getting it right vertically with God then our horizontal relationships will truly be about others and self --- will get smaller… and smaller.

            One last parable to tie it all together and you’ll recognize this one. It’s another in Mark’s succession, “And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


            God likes small beginnings or even hidden for that matter. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is like yeast. It is like a perfect pearl. It is like finding that one lost sheep. Or the lost coin. It belongs to little children ‘such as these’ and others who were small in the eyes of others – like Zaccheus. The kingdom of God is within you.


            God likes to start small. He works in ways that can easily be overlooked. If we’re not intentional in looking FOR Him, we may very well look past Him. He loves the one that’s lost, even when he has the other 99 in His arms. He loves the outcast that others overlook or even push out of the way to take care of their own needs.

            Small doesn't mean insignificant or irrelevant. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the most consequential news story in the history of mankind. God gave us something that in the grand scheme of forever could have easily been overlooked and forgotten. He didn't offer us some grand universal principle. He does not promise us wealth or peace or prosperity in this world. He hasn’t clued us in to the fine points of His eternal plan. He gave us Jesus, who died on a cross like a common criminal.

            His gift to the world was the life and death and resurrection of just one man in a small obscure country at time when the main method of travel was by foot. Jesus is that mustard seed and it’s only through Him that the kingdom of God can be found. When we focus on that one small seed; humbly accept Him as Lord and Savior of our life, our perspective; our world is shifted. 


            Love. Know. Live. Grow. --- Transparent. Accountable. Intentional. Seven words that are building blocks to our faith. Love God passionately; others unconditionally. Know God personally. Live recklessly ‘in Christ.’ Grow exponentially His kingdom. Be transparent with everyone; accountable to God; and intentional in your walk with Jesus.


            When you leave here today and you step into the week ahead, are you ready to seek those moments that God gives you to share the change that Jesus has made in your life! Is your heart conditioned to respond in humility and give God all the glory? Have you taken up your cross to follow Jesus daily in every aspect of your life?


            God loves us. So much, that He sent His only Son to die so that we can live eternally with Him. If you don’t know that; believe it with all your heart; trust God above everything else, then let’s take some time to pray about it together. I’ll be down front waiting for you.



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