My main point today is that we really have no idea how God works or how God wants to grow His kingdom. We don’t. God seems to work quietly. God seems to take His time. God seems to allow good and bad things to happen to us while His plans unfold. In all of it, as we look back over our lives, we can see how God loved us or protected us or was trying to get our attention. And as much as we have seen God pursuing us in the past, we struggle to trust Him today. Why? Because God doesn’t work the way want Him to work. We struggle to trust God day to day – don’t we? We struggle to enter into the mystery of God. We struggle to trust Him and obey Him as we enter into the unknown of this week.
When I was in my early twenties, I was in the Mortgage Banking business and had one goal. I wanted to make a stunning amount of money. At this time in my life, I was a bigger mess than I realized. I was pretty miserable and didn’t quite understand why. I was a part of a church, and they had an opportunity for a few of us who were single to spend the weekend at Paxton Street Homes. It’s a home for folks who need small assistance. Serving there meant that we would serve dinner, eat with the folks, clean up, and do whatever needed to be done.
I go. On Saturday, after breakfast clean up, my job was to serve the maintenance guy. And I have to tell you, I was amazed when I met him. He was the most peaceful, centered, kind young man I had ever met. As we jumped into everything we had to do, he was so relaxed and happy. I have to admit, I couldn’t figure him out. I was confused, ‘How could a guy not pursue being super rich and be content with that?’ I will never forget how much I felt God in and around him. It really impacted me. He had something that I didn’t have, and I couldn’t figure it out. This was part of my journey to discover God’s grace. That man’s life deeply impacted me.
Here is the point of the story. That man had no idea, I mean no idea, how much he impacted me. He was just a dude jumping into the day. But God worked through him to show me who I was not. God was building His kingdom that day and no one knew about it. And I didn’t see it coming.
You have stories like that don’t you? Aren’t there people who have impacted you and they had no idea. Aren’t there moments in your life when God protected you? Aren’t there moments in your life when God was trying to get your attention? And in all of it, you had no clue how God was at work in your life. It was quiet. You never saw it coming. And there was no big party around it.
Here is my point today. We really have no idea how God grows His kingdom.
Let’s pray before we ready today’s parable, the parable of the Growing Seed.
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” NIV Mark 4:26-34
What does this mean? The farmer represents us. The seed represents us telling others about Jesus and building God’s kingdom. The process of the seed dying in the soil and growing into a new plant represents how God grows His kingdom.
I think it’s important to start with this – are you ready? Like the farmer, we have no idea how God wants to grow His kingdom. We think we know how God wants to grow His kingdom. But we don’t have a clue. The whole picture of the farmer throwing seed represents us entering the mystery of God. And believe me when I tell you, it’s a mystery because we have no idea how God works. Probably one of my favorite lines in the Bible is when Jesus said, ‘…though he does not know how.’ This is a picture of how God grows His kingdom. The farmer does what he is supposed to do but he has no clue how the seed and the soil mix to produce new life.
I want you to think about this. A quick read of the Bible and you will conclude the people in the Bible had no idea what God was up to in their day. Think about this with me. How does God save the Children of Israel from a worldwide famine? God has Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers to get to Egypt to become the second in command of the most powerful country in the world. Yeah, that’s how we would have done it. If we wanted to save Israel from worldwide famine, we would have had a meeting, planned it out, and that is exactly what we would have done – right [Sarcastic]?
How does God free the Children of Israel from slavery? God saves Moses’s life as a baby. He is adopted and raised in Pharaoh’s home. After killing an Egyptian guard, Moses escapes Egypt. 40 years later God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and tells Moses to go back and free Israel from slavery. Then through Moses, God sends incredible acts of God against Egypt. Then God shows His power by having them walk through a river on dry ground. I don’t know about you but that is exactly how I would have freed the Children of Israel from slavery – right [Sarcastic]?
How does God enter earth? The Holy Spirit, stick with me, quietly blesses Mary to give birth to Jesus in the most ordinary town. One of the most epic stories ever told is God entering earth to be fully human and fully God to break the curse of death. And His birth couldn’t have been more dull and more unimpressive. Remember the story, Jesus is born in a barn, and nobody knows about it. Yeah, a couple of shepherds came and a few wise men but seriously, no royal birth announcement. No big party. Jesus is born in a no name barn in a no name village in a no name family. And when I think about it, I think, yep, that’s how I would have planned it out [Sarcastic].
Last quick story. Jesus leaves earth. The Holy Spirit anoints the disciples in Jerusalem, and they start the first church with thousands of converts. How does God work through the disciples and spread the good news to the world outside of Jerusalem? Stephen was martyred and that led to persecution. Let me ask you. If you were God, is this how you would have decided to spread your message through the world?
And we could go on story after story. Can we just look at the stories of scripture and admit, if we lived in history, we would have no idea how God wants to grow His kingdom? And I am comfortable saying, today, we have no idea how God wants to grow His kingdom.
All this reminds me of what God said through the prophet Isaiah.
“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree. “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” MSG Isaiah 55:8-11
And here we are years later, and we have concluded, we know how God works. We just have this swagger about ourselves, don’t we? We Christians even write books about it. We write blogs about it. Denominational leaders believe we have figured out how God grows His kingdom. So they get reports and stats and create new programs. Some Pastors preach on it, they say, “Get in good with God, have goals, be positive, and God will give you success, health, and wealth.” Churches and leaders believe we must have [fill in the blank] because that is how God grows His kingdom. How do we know? Because we know – we are modern Christians – we are amazing! And Christians come to church and ask, ‘What can we do, we gotta make something happen.’
Let’s repeat what Jesus said. This time I want to read it from The Message Version.
God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help. MSG Mark 4:26
The farmer has no idea how it happens.
So why do Christians today get so worked up? Why do we feel so much stress? Because we think we know how God works or at least how He is supposed to work. And because we think we know how God works we get busy helping God do what He is supposed to be doing. Then, things don’t work out the way we think they should, and we become dazed, confused, depressed, and conclude, maybe God isn’t with us. We get worked up. We get stressed. Why? Because we don’t understand what is happening. God isn’t doing what makes sense to us.
I want to remind Christians everywhere we don’t know how God works. We think we do but we don’t. I can look back over the 21 plus years of starting and leading MRC and tell you with clarity, I had no idea how God wanted to grow His kingdom with MRC. I thought I knew up until day one. Everyday after that has been like riding a roller-coaster at Hershey Park with no seat belt. It’s been a wild ride.
I look back at my time at Paxton Street Homes and am reminded how God impacted me deeply through a man who will never know how much he impacted me. It was quiet. I never saw it coming. And there was no big fan fair.
Now let me share with you what we do know. We don’t know how God works but here is what we do know. God asked us to trust Him and obey Him.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. NIV Proverbs 3:5-10
Did you see that? We trust God and we obey God. God asked us to trust Him and obey Him as we enter into life. Trust Him and obey Him as we enter into the spiritual mystery of God. Like the farmer throwing seed, we have no idea how the seed grows, but we still throw the seed. That means our job is to wake up everyday and throw the seed. We wake up and trust God and obey God and then God does what God does. We trust God and obey God as we enter into the spiritual mystery of God.
Let’s quickly walk-through scripture.
Noah, trust Me. You probably have never seen rain or an ark but today I need you to build an ark. Joshua, trust Me. Walk around Jericho a few times. Gideon, trust Me. You’re a mighty warrior, lead my 300 people against the 135,000 Midianites. Mary, trust Me. You’re a virgin and you’re going to have a baby and He will be the Messiah. Peter, trust Me, feed my sheep. Stephen, trust Me, I want you to help lead the bread ministry. Paul, trust Me, why do you persecute me?
Do you see it? Trust me, obey me. Why? Because you have no idea how I will grow my kingdom. You focus on trusting me, obeying me, I will do what I do.
Why do we struggle to trust and obey God? Because God doesn’t make sense. We can’t figure God out. That’s why we call it a spiritual mystery. So, we get worked up – don’t we? We get stressed out – don’t we? Even after a quick read of every story in the Bible, after reading every verse about trust, after reading every verse about courage, after painting every verse about hope on wood and hanging it in our homes, we just struggle to simply trust God and simply obey God.
We aren’t sure if God is going to come through for us – so we hold back. We want more control – so we hold back. We don’t believe where God wants to take us is better than where we are – so we hold back. We are afraid of what God will ask of us – so we hold back. We want God to give us a detailed outline and a map of our future – so we hold back. We want to be reassured that we will be successful, healthy, wealthy, happy, and comfortable – so we hold back. God asks us to bring money, time, and energy to build His kingdom and we have no interest in it – so we hold back.
Our version of living out Christianity is this; we may go through the Christian motions, but we struggle to trust, to obey, to fully surrender. Our version of Christianity is doing the least possible while at the same time, somehow, staying close enough to Church or Gods stuff to make it into heaven.
Paul put it like this.
18 I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. NIV Philippians 3:18-20
Can you feel Paul’s emotions about this? He cares so much it tears up his emotions. With tears in his eyes he writes, please fully surrender your life to God. Trust Him, obey Him. Don’t be that Christian that goes through the motions and who doesn’t surrender their lives. They are actually enemies of the cross.
Let’s quickly review what we said. Based on what Jesus taught, we don’t know how God wants to grow His kingdom. However, what we do know is this, God asked us to trust Him and obey Him as we enter into this spiritual mystery of life.
Here is the second thing we know. God is going to do what God wants to do when He wants to do it. Gideon surrenders his life and God destroys the enemies of Israel with only 300 men. The Children of Israel walk around Jericho, the walls fall. Mary says, “Let it be as you said,” and she gives birth to Jesus. The disciples surrender their lives, the Holy Spirit anoints them, and the good news of Jesus goes everywhere. Peter speaks and thousands are added to the church. Stephen is so filled with the Holy Spirit he glowed as they stoned him to death. Paul surrenders his life, God plants churches everywhere.
Please hear me. God is going to do what God wants to do when He wants to do it. And based on every story we see in scripture we won’t know how God is going to grow His kingdom. We call that a spiritual mystery.
Let’s stop for a second. I want you to think about the Bible. What if the Bible wasn’t about a list of rules and regulations? Is it important to live out what the Bible teaches? Absolutely yes. It’s the greatest guide to our spiritual lives. It’s probably the most common way God speaks to us. If you have a potty mouth, clean it up. If you have negative attitudes, redeem your brain. If you wrestle with fear, depression, anxiety, right – we all do, so do what scripture says, pray and surrender your life to God. So yes, live out what the Bible teaches.
But what if what God was up to in the Bible was bigger than a set of rules? What if the Bible was God’s story about what He does through people who surrender their lives to God? What if this collection of stories was for us to get courage? The people in scripture, they trusted God, they obeyed God, and God did what God wanted to do when He wanted to do it. When you read scripture, it’s amazing. All the stories are unique. All the stories are messy. All the stories are about people struggling and wrestling with God. All the stories are filled with God doing what God wants to do when He wants to do it. So, when we read the Bible it’s a reminder that God needs us to trust Him, obey Him, and allow God to be God. Maybe it’s a collection of stories for us to read to build our courage.
So, what do we do? When we leave the parking lot today, what do we do, how do we live? The first and greatest thing you can ever do, is give your life to Jesus and start a real relationship with Him. This is why all of our discipleships, books we give to you, teachings here at MRC are about discovering what it means to walk with God. Do you have a real relationship with God? Be honest. Remember that last few parables we have shared with you? Jesus told us, be prepared, I’m coming back. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, you may not be ready for His return. Have you invited Jesus into your life and asked Him to forgive you of your sins? Are you walking with Jesus throughout the week? Reading scripture. Praying. Are you walking with us through the discipleships to go deeper?
After giving your life to Jesus, then everyday do what Jesus taught. To be more detailed, I would say, jump into the ordinariness of each day and do what Jesus taught. That means go to work and work hard. Love others, purify your heart, your attitudes, your mouth, your thoughts. Change diapers. Get the groceries. Pay the bills. Get the kids to the sports fields. Fully engage your local church, bring your best to church. Go on date nights. Love and support and spoil your grandkids. And in all of these days, each day, go after God. Love God. Read, pray, serve. Learn what it means to walk with God. Embrace the ordinariness of life.
Why do I say this? Because sometimes Christians have a funny way of living. As God is asking us to trust and obey Him in our ordinary lives, we tend to be attracted to whatever event is big and whatever would make us look good. We would rather try to walk on water than simply love our spouse so intensely, they feel amazing. Christians do this, don’t we? As we go after what we think is a great work of God, we ignore and push away the ordinary. If we aren’t careful, we become fake like the Pharisees. We may be busy doing the big God thing that makes us feel good and look good but we aren’t doing the ordinary things of engaging God and loving those closest to us.
Remember the maintenance man at Paxton Street Homes? He will never know how much God impacted me through him. He did the ordinary thing and God impacted me through him. It was quiet. I never saw it coming. His social media accounts didn’t go viral.
What am I saying? Throw the seed. Trust and obey God. Do life God’s way. Go after God. Love God. Do what God asks of you. Enter the mystery of God. Be great at being single. Go all out in your marriage. Fully love your husband and wife. Be a dad and a mom who deeply loves their kids. Don’t let a day go by that you don’t hug them. Be grandparents who love without guilt. Be people who fully engage in church. Love, pray, serve, and enjoy life.
Why? Because we have no idea how God wants to grow His kingdom. It’s our job to throw the seed.
You may think, “Ken, this is kinda simple.” I would say, ‘Right.’ That’s exactly the point of all of scripture. Give your life to God and let God be God. Quit trying to be God. We throw the seed and let God grow His kingdom. We joined His kingdom. He didn’t join our kingdom.
Let’s process this with a few questions.
Can you look back over your life and see how God was talking to you, protecting you, trying to get your attention? In those moments, did you see it coming?
When you read the Bible, did anyone in scripture know how God was a work? Noah? Children of Israel? Joseph? David? Mary? Peter? Stephen? Paul?
Why do you think we believe we know how God is at work today?
Are you comfortable saying, I have no idea how God works in my life and how God grows His kingdom?
Because we don’t know how God wants to grow His kingdom, are you okay simply trusting and obeying Him? Practically, do you walk with God? Do you give your time, money, energy back to grow His kingdom? Do you change your attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts? Are you enjoying life?
What has God asked of you that you are fighting Him on? Is it getting old yet?
Are you okay doing the ordinary things of life and doing them very well or do you tend to ignore the ordinary for the bigger more attractive things that might make you look good?
When I challenge you to enter the spiritual mystery of God we call life, what does that do to you? Does it excite you because you want to surrender your whole life to God? Does it terrify you because you don’t know what God will ask of you? Does that frustrate you because you feel like you are giving up control?
Here is Christianity. We have no idea how God grows His kingdom. Our job is to throw the seed. That means trust and obey God. And then we allow God to be God.