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Greg Laurie - The Golden Key To Spiritual Growth

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    Greg Laurie - The Golden Key To Spiritual Growth

We're gonna look at one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It's a parable. Now, you know what a parable is. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Just think of it as a story. We all love stories. We all love to watch movies. We love to read novels. We all love to read fiction. We love a good story and even better if it's a true story. Jesus told lots of stories. In fact, he told so many stories the Bible says the common people or the regular folk heard him gladly. He didn't speak over people's heads. He didn't try to impress them with theological words. He broke everything down in an understandable way so they could get it. And we're gonna look at the parable of the sower, which is a parable that reveals to us the golden key to spiritual growth.

Not long ago I was invited to the White House and a group of pastors were invited into the Oval Office at the request of the president to pray for him and give him some advice. Now, some people are critical of that. Why would you go and do that? Well, excuse me, anytime a president or a governor or an elected official would say, would you come into my office and pray for me and give me some advice, I don't think I would say no to that. We have biblical precedent of course. We look at Daniel advising the kings of Babylon. We see Joseph advising the Pharaoh and so forth. So of course we said yes, and the president was very receptive to what we had to say.

And then when it came time to pray, he was very happy to pray and ask for God's help in his life. And then he gave to all of us, an unexpected gift. There was a stack of these boxes on his desk. And we were each given one and this box has a key in it. And as you can see this as a commemorative key. On the box it says the president of the United States and then here's the picture of the White House. And then inside is this golden key, as you can see, and it's a special thing to have. And I'm appreciative to President Trump for giving that to me and the other pastors. But I have a golden key for you today. And this one is not gonna open up any locks at the White House but it can open up some locks if you will in your own life. It's the golden key to spiritual growth.

Now, before we read from Mark chapter four, let's get the backdrop. Jesus had had a long and emotional day. His mother and brothers showed up to where he was speaking and they wanted to take him home because in their words, they thought he had lost his mind. And then after that, he was accused by the scribes of being inspired by Satan. Not a good day, a lot of drama. So it's interesting as we come to Mark chapter four, we read that Jesus has gone to the beach effectively. Now it's the sea of Galilee, which is actually a massive freshwater lake. So he went to the water and I don't know about you but I love to be near water. I love to walk on the beach. It's a place where you contemplate things and you're surrounded by God's creation. And it's just a great place to sort of unwind and reflect. And I think Jesus loved to spend time in the water. We see a lot of his great teachings and activities right there near the Sea of Galilee.

So with that in mind we come to Mark chapter four and we read these words. Once again, by the way, I'm reading from the new living translation. Mark chapter four, verse one, "Once again, Jesus began teaching by the lake shore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him and he got into a boat and he sat on the boat while the people remained on the shore and they taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one. Listen, says Jesus. A farmer went out to plant some seed and he scattered across the field. Some fell in a footpath and the birds came and ate it. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock".

I'm sure the Lord was probably gesturing as he was teaching. In the sermon on the mountain he says, look at the birds, they don't worry. Why are you worrying? Look at the flowers, how beautiful they are. Maybe he gestured and there was a farmer in the distance throwing seed out left and right. So he talks about this seed that goes in a footpath and the birds come and eat it. And other seed falls on shallow soil with underlying rock and it sprouted up quickly, but it withered under the hot sun. He continues on, "Other seed fell among thorns or weeds that grew up and choked out the tender plants and it produced no fruit. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil and they sprouted, grew and produced a crop that was 30, 60, even 100 times more than it had been planted".

Now listen to this. Then he said, he who has ears to hear, let him listen. That's the parable of the sower. Say well, that's nice. What does it mean? That's exactly what the disciples said. Well, what does this mean? And now Jesus explains or interprets this story here in Mark chapter four, verse 13. "Then Jesus said to them, if you can't understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables"? Here it is. "The farmer plant seed by taking God's word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message but Satan comes at once".

You might underline that phrase. "Satan comes at once and takes it away. Now the seed that fell on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy but they don't have deep roots and they don't last long and they fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God's work". Verse 18 of Mark chapter four, "But the seed that fell among the thorns or the weeds represents those who hear the word of God, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth and the desire for other things and no fruit is produced".

Now the final category. "And the seed that fell in the good soil represents those who hear and accept God's word, have produced a harvest of 30, 60, or even 100 times as much as has been planted". All right, so what does this mean to us today? Answer, I have no idea. God bless you and thanks for watching, goodbye. No, seriously. I have a few thoughts about this. I'm a preacher of course I do. I actually have a whole message about these things. These are four reactions to God's word and you fit into one of these four categories. And I want you to know that only one category was really legitimate or what we might call people who were actually converted.

Back in biblical times the objective of the sower was to just take the seed and throw it out, throw it out and let the wind pick it up. It's not like they planted little crops ahead of time and carefully put the seed in and had modern farming equipment to work with. No, it was pretty primitive. He just walked out, had his seed in his big bag, reached in, threw it, the wind would pick it up and the seed would go here, there and everywhere. And so the objective was you did the plowing later to see where the seed went and that's our job. Our job is to go into all the world and preach the gospel or sow the seed. It's interesting that the word broadcast actually comes from the root word of sowing seed.

So right now you're watching a broadcast. It's a broad casting of seed. And we hear such amazing stories from people who've come to the Lord, are watching harvest at home or listening to our radio program or through one of our live events that we do that we call harvest crusades and so forth. But we just throw the seed out to as many people as we can. And time will tell who the real converts are. Listen to this. The only way to tell if someone is really a Christian is through the test of time. I'll say that again. The only way to tell if someone is really a Christian is through the test of time. Because sometimes people come on strong in the beginning and then they walk away never to return. Other times people have sort of a weak start, but then they get stronger with the passing of time. So we just have to wait to see who the real believers are.

Sometimes a person will make a profession of faith. They'll fall away, but then they'll return. That's a prodigal. Here's how you know the difference between a prodigal and a person who's not really converted. If a person isn't really converted and walks away and never comes back, then we would just say, they're like the seed sown on the roadside that was picked up by the birds, but a prodigal will always come home.

As I said earlier, sometimes you can have a weak beginning, but a strong finish. Take Nicodemus, remember him? John chapter three, we read that he came to Jesus by night. In fact, that's mentioned multiple times. He came to Jesus at night. Why is that important? Because Nicodemus was a celebrity. He was a well-known Pharisee, sort of the teacher's teacher, if you will. So for a man of his stature to go to this rabbi named Jesus and ask questions well, there was a risk to that because he was the guy who was supposed to have all the answers, but he didn't of course. So he went to Jesus at night. You remember the conversation, he opened with some compliments and Jesus just cut to the chase and said, Nicodemus, you must be born again.

So that really impacted Nicodemus but we don't read there in John three and that conversation of Nicodemus believing, but it appears that he did become a believer because later on in the story after Jesus was crucified and they were laying his body in the tomb, we read that a man named Joseph of Arimathea came to take the body and he was joined by Nicodemus. And the little detail is added, who came to Jesus by night. So here's my point. Sometimes people look like they're really strong and others look like they're really weak. Example, Judas Iscariot was an apostle in good standing while Nicodemus was still groping his way in but in the end, Judas revealed himself to be a full-blown hypocrite and not a believer at all. And Nicodemus, he came over that finish line with flying colors. So you may have a weak beginning, but a strong finish. What matters is how you finish.

Let's look at the different categories together. Category number one, I'm gonna call them highway hearers. Highway hearers and it's in verse 15 of Mark four. "The seed that fell in the footpath represent those who hear the message only they have Satan come at once and take it away". I want you to notice something here, Satan comes at once, Jesus says. He comes at once. Know this, when you share the gospel with someone, the devil is going to aggressively oppose it. And when someone makes a profession of faith to follow Christ you need to be there to help them get grounded spiritually.

You know when I was a brand new believer, the Christian said to me you know Greg, be careful. You're gonna be tempted by the devil. I'd never heard of such a thing, tempted by the devil. I'm thinking there's some guy with pointed ears and red skin with a pitchfork. Yeah, no, you'll be tempted by the devil. Now, I'd never really thought about temptation before because I think as a young kid I just sort of did what I wanted. Maybe I saw it more as opportunity than temptation. I'll be tempted by the devil. Then I said, how will I know when I'm being tempted? They said, you'll know.

So, I'm still in high school, I'm in a class and there was a very attractive girl in that class. So I'm a brand new believer in Jesus Christ. And I've never talked to this girl before. I'd noticed her, but I hadn't talked to her. So after class is over, this girl who never gave me the time of day, she didn't even acknowledge my existence up to that point, walks up to me and says, hi, what's your name? And I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and I momentarily forgot my name. I said, ah Greg. Oh, hey Greg, you're really cute. I'm like what? I mean, actually that never happened to me. I know I'm cute, but I didn't really have girls come up to me and say, you're cute. You're really cute. I'm thinking, what is this girl saying?

I have this little button with a little image of Jesus on it. I'm a brand new Christian. You're really cute. I'm thinking what is going on here? And she says, how would you like to spend the weekend with me up at a cabin that our family owns? And I'm thinking, this is temptation for sure, because you know why? That kind of thing never happened to me before and out of nowhere this attractive girl comes up and with this enticing offer and it was of course enticing.

Well I said, no, thank God. But I knew I think that was my first official temptation. That's what happens when you're a follower of Jesus, the devil is gonna come and attack. So that's category one. So these are the people that they hear the word of God, but it doesn't really penetrate their hard hearts. Jesus says the birds come and eat it. You've been at McDonald's or some other place and the birds are hanging out 'cause that's free food man. That food hits the ground, voom, they swoop down and get it. So that's what happened. These are people that hear the word of God, but it doesn't really penetrate their hardened heart.

Category number two, I'm gonna call them rocky road hearers. Rocky road hearers. Verse 16. "The seed that went on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately, notice the word immediately. Immediately they receive it with joy, but since they don't have deep roots, they don't last long. They fall away and as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God's word". So they start, they take hold of it, but then it doesn't take root in their life. Now the stony ground Jesus is speaking of, is just speaking of the terrain of Israel.

Remember years ago I was on a tour of Israel and I had my granddaughter, Stella. She was very little at that point and afterwards I said, Stella, what do you remember most about your trip to Israel? I thought she would remember some biblical site we went to. She said, rocks. What? Rocks. There were rocks everywhere. That's true. There's a lot of rocks in the soil. So the idea here is that the seed goes into the ground and there's a shelf of rock underneath. So it shoots up but because it can't get root, it withers in the blazing sun. So this is a description of a person who hears the word of God and boom, they respond. I mean, they respond so quickly.

You know you talk to some people and conversations go on for weeks. Sometimes months, even years, you feel like you're making a little progress. Other people, their first time you tell them, they say, I want Jesus in my life. Really? Yeah. I want him in my life. So you say let's pray and they pray. And immediately they're like mega convert, right? Like they go in and buy a Bible, not just any Bible, they get a giant Bible. They start carrying around and they're at church every day of the week and they're quoting verses and when worship is happening, they're lifting their hands higher than anybody else. They're singing louder. And they're even critical of others who aren't growing as quickly as they're growing.

And you say to people that is the most dramatic conversion I have ever seen. It was like literally night and day. So maybe a month passes by and they're gone. You don't see them at church anymore. They don't respond to your phone calls or your texts. What's going on? They just walked away. They fell away. This is the category we're looking at here. So we wonder what happened to these people. Well, obviously they're having an emotional experience but it didn't take root. See this is actually not a true conversion though it looks like one.

And sometimes people in this category, rocky road hearers will say something along the lines of, oh well I tried the whole Christianity thing and it didn't work for me. Oh yeah I was a Christian, I went to church. I read the Bible. I did all that stuff. But yeah, it didn't work for me. Actually you never were converted, I'm sorry to tell you that. You had an emotional experience. Maybe you had some sense of who Jesus was, but if it was a real conversion, you would still be walking with the Lord. We're almost to the golden key of spiritual growth.

We have one more category before, I'll call them thorny hearers. Thorny hearers. Let's look at verse 18 of Mark four together. "The seed that fell among the thorns, the weeds represent those who hear the word of God, but all too quickly, the message is crowded out". Listen, you might wanna underline these things, by what? "The worries of this life, the lure of wealth and the desire for other things. And no fruit is produced". Isn't an interesting? These are not evil things outright, but they're other things.

So there's a lot of weeds in Israel in addition to rocks, all kinds of weeds to choke out the growth of the seed. So the seed goes into the ground and immediately the weeds are there to hinder the growth of the seed. So this category, the thorny hearer is not like the person that shoots up with lots of excitement and enthusiasm. This is a person who seems to be growing spiritually, but gradually they just walk away because other things become more important to them. Listen, not bad things necessarily.

Notice it says the worries of this life, the concerns of this life. I mean there's nothing wrong with being concerned about how you're gonna put food on the table. There is nothing wrong with that. I mean the concern about a roof over your head, there's nothing wrong with thinking about the needs and necessities of life, but don't make your life about all those things. Now having said that there's nothing wrong with being successful. The Bible even says, Jesus speaking, if you'll seek first the kingdom of God, he'll provide all the things that you need, but just don't make that your primary focus, make Christ your primary focus.

And now we come as promised to the golden key of spiritual growth, ready for it? Go to verse 20 of Mark four. "And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God's word and produce a harvest of 30, 60, and 100 times as much as been planted". Here it is. The golden key to spiritual growth is how you hear the word of God. Let me say that again. The golden key to spiritual growth is how you hear the word of God. Look at verse 20. They hear and accept God's word.

Now we all know that we can hear something and yet not hear it at all. Maybe your mom is lecturing you and she's saying, you need to remember to make your bed and take out the trash and do your homework and in your mind you just hear blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so you're not really paying attention. You're hearing audibly, but you're really not listening. And so you've been listening to a message from God's word. Have you been paying attention? Have you been checking your phone constantly or having this side conversation? I mean, you need to listen to what God's word has to say.

See every category and the parable of the sower heard it in quotes but they didn't receive it. They didn't hear it in the right way. The story is told of President Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. And he complained that no one ever listened to what he said. So he tried a little experiment out on one occasion. There was a long line of people to meet him. And he decided he was gonna say to every single person that he met, I murdered my grandmother this morning.

So a person comes in, President says I murdered my grandmother this morning and there were responding good to meet you, Mr. President. That's fantastic. You're doing a great job. Another person comes, I murdered my grandmother this morning. People kept coming by. He keeps saying that I murdered my grandmother this morning. Obviously nobody was listening because nobody responded to it until the ambassador from Bolivia came along. And he actually heard what the president said. I murdered my grandmother this morning. And the ambassador from Bolivia said, well, sir I'm sure she had it coming.

Well, listen the idea is we don't listen. That's why Jesus says he that has ears to hear, let him hear. Listen to this, success or failure in the Christian life depends on how you hear the word of God. It's not a light thing to hear Bible studies. I know many of you are Bible students and you listen to podcasts and great biblical teaching on the radio. And you're in a small group and you read devotions and God bless you, that's amazing. You're fantastic. But it's important now that you hear it, that you apply it and that you obey it. It's actually a dangerous thing to hear the word of God and not apply it in your old life. So what is the golden key of spiritual growth? Listen, it's hearing, it's receiving and it's obeying the word of God.

Now in Luke's version of the parable of the sower which we've been looking at, he has a little detail that's very important. He says, having heard the word, they keep it and they bring forth fruit with patience. Patience. Now that's a word, patience from a root word in the Greek that means endurance. So the way you get this endurance from the Greek is through trials. The trying of your faith produces endurance. And so if you've been tried in your faith, if you've been tested as a Christian, that's making you stronger. And the way you bring forth fruit is through endurance, getting through hard times, getting through challenging circumstances.

And so this is very important for us and how do we bring forth spiritual fruit? Jesus gives the answer in John 15. He says, if you abide in me, you will bring forth much fruit. Then he goes on to say and this is how you glorify the father by bringing forth fruit. What is fruit? It's results. It's actions. It's evidence that you're a true follower of Jesus. And how does that happen? Jesus says by abiding in me. What does it mean to abide in him? It means to sink your roots deeply into him and walk with him and cultivate your relationship with him each and every day.

Let me close by asking, are you abiding in Christ? Have you built your foundation on him? Which of these categories do you fall in? Are you like the highway hearer that hears it and blows it off and isn't really interested in it? You're not interested in spiritual things. Are you like the rocky road hearer who hears it but other things happen in your life and you build it on the wrong foundation and wither in the sun? You don't stay with it. Or are you like the person who has their heart choked up at the cares of this life and the lure of wealth and other things? I hope not. You can be the person on good soil. You can bring forth spiritual fruit. The golden key to spiritual growth is simply that. And I hope you have that relationship with God.

And thanks for watching our TV program. And I wonder if you yourself have accepted Jesus Christ. You know a lot of times people tune into programs like this who aren't believers that kind of checking it out. Maybe you're laughing at it at first. Maybe you think it's not real, but something has happened. And maybe something that's been said, you've suddenly discovered you need Jesus Christ. The day I accepted Jesus, let me tell you, it was the last thing I planned on doing. I didn't plan on becoming a Christian that day, but that was the day that was appointed in eternity for me to believe in Jesus.

I wonder if this is not that day for you. You've been eavesdropping, you've been checking it out, but now God's speaking right to your heart and you realize you need Jesus Christ. Would you like to have your sin forgiven? Would you like a second chance in life? Would you like to go to heaven when you die? Would you like your guilt removed? Listen, it can all happen because Jesus Christ went to a cross and died for your sin and then rose again, three days later and he'll come into your life right now and be your savior and your Lord and the best friend you've ever had. Let's pray together. Pray this after me:

Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner, but I believe you died on the cross for my sin. And I'm sorry for that sin. And I turn from it now and I ask you to come into my life and be my savior and be my Lord and be my God, and be my friend. I choose to follow you from this moment forward. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

If you just prayed that prayer I want you to know on the authority of God's word, that Christ himself has come to live inside of you. The Bible says these things we write to you that believe in the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, but let me say, God bless you and welcome to God's family.
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