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James Merritt - Are You Ready to Share the Gospel?

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    James Merritt - Are You Ready to Share the Gospel?
TOPICS: Evangelism

Well, I want you to imagine, and I want you to kinda do something. We're gonna kinda do a Disney-esque thing this morning. You know Walt Disney understood the power of imagination. So I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine that it's 30 A.D. today. So we're gonna go back 2,000 years almost to the year. We're gonna bring it up to today. And I want you to imagine that what happened in 30 A.D. happened in the year 2022. Jesus, the Son of God, who multitudes saw perform miracles, walk on water, feed thousands of people with just a few Big Macs. In fact, he not only fed a few people with the Big Macs, when it was over, he got back a super large fry and some shakes. I mean, it was incredible what he was able to pull off. And they saw him do all of these miracles.

And then I want you to imagine that today he's crucified, he's placed in a tomb, is guarded by Marines, is guarded by Navy Seals, is guarded by the best crack soldiers in the world because this guy predicted that three days later he would come back from the dead. Now, I want you to imagine that happens today. Cameras would be everywhere on that tomb. They'd have infrared light to watch it day and night. Reporters would be on the scene 24/7. It would be all over the internet, all over the social media, all over Twitter, all over Instagram. And yet come Sunday morning, the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, and 11 of his most devoted followers claim they saw him, they talked to him, he was raised from the dead.

Now you can imagine in this day and age with social media, and television, and the internet and globalization, the entire world would know about it. The entire world would see it. The entire world would've heard about it, even though it still would be hard to believe. I think you agree I painted a pretty accurate picture of what we could experience today. There's only one problem. It didn't happen today. It happened 2,000 years ago. So now, God, I got a question. So how you gonna get the news out? There was no social media. There was no Twitter or Instagram. There was no internet. There was no cell phone. There was no television. There was no radio. How are you gonna get the news out? You're gonna send legions of angels to the four corners of the earth and loudly proclaim the good news so everybody can hear it?

Or maybe you're just gonna kinda of paint the news in the sky with stars and flashing neon moons and solar systems that are claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord and it will be there 24/7, so day and night people will hear the good news about Jesus. Is that how you're going to do it? And God says, "Nope. Once again, I'm gonna do the improbable. I'm going to do the inconceivable. I'm gonna do the illogical". God says, "I'm gonna depend on you to get the good news out". Now let that settle in. How you doing on that? How are we doing? How'd you do on that the last week, the last two weeks, the last three weeks, the last month, the last year? How about the whole of your Christian life? God says, "You know, there is no plan B".

Beginning with 11 disciples, most of who couldn't even sign their name, all the way up to followers today, God says, "Here's how I'm gonna get the news out. Here's how we're gonna let people know what happened 2,000 years ago. I'm depending on you to tell them. I'm depending on you to share the good news". Now people use different terms to describe what we're gonna talk about this morning. One term is evangelism. That scares people. Another term is sharing your faith. Another term is proclaiming the gospel. But here's the cold truth. We're just gonna face brutal facts today. For many, if not most followers of Jesus, it is perhaps the most difficult part of the Christian life. Most of us can read our Bible. Most of us can talk to God. Most of us can write out a check, or get on the internet and give an offering. Most of us can come sit in a church.

Many of us can serve and we can, you know, work in a nursery, or teach teenagers, or there are so many things we can do. But maybe the most difficult part of the Christian life is knowing that it's our job to share the gospel. And let's just be honest. We know that we need to do it. We know that we ought to do it. We know that other people need us to do it. But according to every survey I've ever read, ever, 96% of people who claim to follow Jesus rarely or never do it, 96%. We know we ought to, know we need to, know we're told to, but we don't do it. And then for those that do it, for those that try to do it, many of those who do it feel inadequate doing it, they get stressed out doing it and then they feel guilty when they don't do it.

And by the way, I'm not trying to put anybody on a guilt trip. That's not what I came back from Florida to do. I'm in a great mood, I'm happy. Georgia is still the national champion. It's God is good, life is good. That's not the point. But somehow this is what happened. Somehow between 30 A.D. and today, many, many Christians have convinced themselves that the only people that can do it is the seminary-trained guy like me. Or, you've gotta be an articulate apologist. You've gotta be able to answer every question somebody might ask. No, that's just for people who are called to do it. So let me just get something outta the way I'm called to be a full-time preacher of the gospel. You're not called to do that. I'm called to be a full-time pastor. You're not. We are all called and commanded to share the gospel. Can I get one amen to that.

We are all commanded and we were all called to share the gospel. And here's the truth of the matter. This is what I wanna share with you today. It's not just that we're commanded to do it, we can do it, you can do it. We just need to understand our part in doing it. I'm convinced that's what happens. We don't understand our part. So to that end, Jesus tells what we call a parable. Parables was one of Jesus's favorite ways of teaching truth. And I want you to take, if you brought your Bibles, or get out your iPad or whatever you use, I want you to turn to a gospel called Luke, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. I want you to turn to Luke chapter 8. And in this parable, Jesus, in this chapter, Jesus tells what may be the most important of all the parables he ever told. I'll tell you why I believe that. Jesus told about 40 parables. But this is the first time Jesus ever spoke in a parable.

Of the 40 parables he told, this is only one of two that has a title, and it's only one of three that Jesus felt was so important he said, "By the way, I'm gonna tell you how to interpret this parable. I'm gonna tell you exactly what the parable means 'cause I do not want you to miss what I'm talking about". So he thought it was so important, he said, "I'm gonna tell you what it means". By the way, this is the only parable that's found in all three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And in all three, it's the first parable that Jesus ever told. So the story is super simple. It's about a farmer. And he goes out into a field and he does what farmers do. He sows seed, and that seed falls on different types of soil.

Now I'm gonna go ahead and give you the punchline about what the end truth of this parable is, okay? So listen to this carefully because now you're gonna, hopefully a light will start coming on. You ready? The quality of the soil determines whether or not the planting of the seed produces a harvest. Everybody hear that? The quality of the soil determines whether or not the planting of the seed produces a harvest. So even a little child can understand this story. There's only three parts to the parable, right? There's the sower, there's the seed, and there's the soil. You got the sower, you got the seed, you got the soil.

Now we don't have to wonder, "Well, what do those represent"? Because Jesus tells us, he says the sower, who do you think that is? Somebody guess. Who is the sower? Yeah, that's you. We're the sower, right? That follower of Jesus. We're the sower. The seed is this, the Word of God, the gospel. Well, what is the soil? The soil is the heart of that person that we're sharing with, the heart of that person that we're trying to reach. So I want you to keep all of that in mind now. We're gonna read the parable. You ready? Here we go.

"While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable. 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell among the path, it was trampled on and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop a hundred times more than was sown.' When he said this he called out, 'Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.'"

Now watch this. When you just read the parable one time, something jumps out at you. The focus of the parable is not on the sower. That's not the focus of the parable. He's not even identified. It's not on the seed. Seed's just scattered. He just throw the seeds out. The focus is on the soils. That's the only variable that doesn't change. The sower doesn't change, the seed doesn't change, but the soils change. And what Jesus is saying is this. You need to understand that whether or not this seed brings a harvest, it's not determined by the sower. It's not even determined by the seed. It's determined by the soil. In other words, it's not the messenger and it's not even the message, it is the heart of the person who hears the gospels. Here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna take a chance, I'm gonna trust you with something. I'm gonna give you the sermon in a sentence.

Now the reason I'm trusting you is I'm gonna give you that sermon, but don't you get up and walk out on me when this sentence is over, okay, I'm not done. But I'm gonna give you the sermon in a sentence. Here's the sermon in a sentence. You ready? We are to go and sow. It's God's job to grow. All right, I want you to say that out loud with me. Ready? We are to go and sow. It's God's job to grow. I want you to remember that. It's not my job to grow. Can't do it. It's our job to go and sow. It's God's job to grow. In other words, we can do our part, but only God can reach the heart. We can do our part, but only God can reach the heart. We're to go, we're to sow, it's God's job to grow.

Now, hopefully, and this is my prayer, once we understand how this works, many of you will say, "I can do that. I need to be doing that. I wanna start doing that". We need to get involved in the work. Knowing this, listen, this is the thing that pumps me up. You can't fail in doing what I'm gonna ask you to do today. You can't. It's impossible. Everybody in this room can do it. And everybody in this room will be successful. We gotta learn three lessons. Ready? Number one. We are responsible to sow the seed. We are responsible to sow the seed. Now there's no misunderstanding what Jesus means in the story 'cause he tells us in his own words. Verse 11, "This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the Word of God".

Now don't miss that. The seed is the Word of God. Don't miss that fact. But here's the problem. Even though the seed is the Word of God, there's one thing this seed can't do 'cause it can't do something no other seed can't do. This seed cannot plant itself. If all that seed ever does is sit on your shelf at home, it won't do any good. If all you ever do is bring that seed to church and open it when I preach it and then take it back and never look at it again, it won't do any good. No seed, I don't care how great the seed is, no seed will do any good unless it's planted. It cannot plant itself. It needs a sower. All the seed in the world is useless if the sower doesn't go out and sow it.

In other words, you know this, if you're a farmer, you cannot do your job sitting in the house. You gotta get out in the field. If you're a fisherman, you can't do your job sitting on land. You've gotta get out into the water. And what Jesus is saying is, "Don't let this book, particularly the gospel, don't let the gospel sit on a shelf and rot". So in other words, here's what we do. We come to church, we hear the word, we hear the gospel, we present the gospel in this church every week, we hear the word, we present the gospel, and then you know what we do? We leave it in our seat 'til next week. Jesus said, "No, that's not what you're to do. You're to leave this church with seed in your pocket sowing the seed". Now here's the good news for you. The seed we've got, we've got seed in this church, it's already been bought and it's paid for and all we have to do is sow it.

Recently Bruce Hardy, you know Bruce, our CFO, Bruce went out to Yosemite National Park. Now I've been there and if you've been there, you know Yosemite is really famous for its giant sequoias. Let me tell you about these trees. Some of these trees are more than 20 feet wide, 300 feet tall. The root system can go 12 feet underground and stretch out almost 80 feet in diameter. And because of their resistance to disease and insects and even fire, they're almost indestructible. Some of the trees in that forest are over 2,000 years old. Humongous trees. You will never believe where those trees come from. You're not gonna believe this when I show it to you. This is a sequoia seed, all right? That's a seed. Hold it in your hand, see those little things? That is a sequoia seed. That's no bigger than the seed that can produce a tomato or a watermelon.

And that one little seed right there is the power that can produce one sequoia. And listen to this. When that one sequoia matures, you know how many seeds that sequoia tree will produce? 400,000 a year. You plant one little seed, out of that seed explodes into this giant sequoia tree, and outta that tree it gives out 400,000 seeds a year. Let me tell you something. The power in that seed of a sequoia compared to the power in that little tract right there is like comparing a spark to the sun. See, here's the point. What matters in the story is not how the sower sowed the seed. What matters is that he sowed the seeds. I want you to hear this. The success or failure of the seed doesn't depend on the source. It doesn't depend on the technique. It doesn't depend on the method.

Sowing seed, I don't mean to, if you're a farmer, if you've ever done farming, don't take this wrong way. I don't mean to be condescending. It just ain't that hard. That guy's a Georgia Tech guy. you don't have to go to Georgia Tech to be a farmer. It's not the most complicated thing in the world. You dig a hole, you sow a seed. I mean that really is what you do. It's really, really simple. Anybody could do it. You just take a bag of seed like this, walk around and throw it down. So lemme just make this very, very plain. You ready? There is no bad way to sow seed. I've heard people say, "Well, I don't know if I wanna share the gospel or not. I might mess it up".

You can't mess it up. There's no bad way to sow the seed. Now some will hit hard ground. Some will hit rocky ground. Some will hit thorny ground. Some will hit good ground. But it doesn't take any skill. It doesn't take any training. You don't have to have a seminary degree or know the New Testament Greek to sow that seed. Everybody raise their hand on that. Okay? You can do it. You don't need to be educated. You say, "Well, what if they ask me questions I don't know"? There's three words you tell them. "I don't know. I'll get the answer". We'll help you. Don't worry about it. Here's the point. What matters is not how the seed is sewn. It is that it is sown. Why? Because it's not the expertise of the sower. That's not what matters. It is not the quality of the seed. That's not what matters. It is the quality of the soil. Our part is to sow the seed. Everybody got that? All right?

We are to go and sow. God's job is to grow. Let's say that again. We are to go and sow. God's job is to grow. Everybody got that? So it's possible to sow the seed. Now, "Well what about the person we're sharing with"? All right, here's the second thing Jesus says. "They're responsible to welcome the Word". My job's just to sow the seed, that's all I can do. It is their job to welcome the Word. Because remember the focus of the story, right, let's see how well you been listening. Where's the focus? What is the focus on? Is it on the sower? Is it on the seed? What's the focus on? The soils. That's the whole focus right there, all right? So even the best sower of the best seed will not see any fruit if the soil is bad.

So Jesus identifies these soils. These are the hearts of the people that you're trying to reach. Now let me just tell you, I've sowed a lot of seed in my life and I have seen all four kinds of these soils. I've seen every single one of them. So here's the first soil, verse 12. He said, "Those along the path are the ones who hear. And then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts so they may not believe and be saved". Now this is what makes the Word of God different from every other book you'll ever encounter. You can read every other book with your eyes and hear every other book with your ears, but you receive God's Word with your heart, and your heart's called the path.

And here's why Jesus told that story. Back in that day, people would walk through a field and they would basically take the same path. They'd all walk the same path. And as they walk along the path, they would trample down all the grass. So the path would not actually be on the field where you would plant, it would be on the edge of the field. It'd kind of be like the curbside of a road. And this is where birds would look for food. So in other words, this was the type of soil where the seed could not get on the field. It just couldn't get on it. I'll give you an example. Back when I was at the SBC a few weeks ago in California, I encountered this type of soil. It's really kind of a funny story in a way. I'd called a taxi the day before to take me and Theresa to the airport.

Well, the very day the taxi was supposed to get me and pick me up, a friend of mine was actually going to the airport and he saw me. He said, "Hey James, what are you doing"? I said, "Well, I'm about to call my taxi". He said, "Look, I'm going to the airport. If you want to, we'll just take you to the airport". And I thought, "Yeah, I'll just do that". Well then I got to feeling bad because I'd already scheduled the taxi. So I called this taxi driver, his name was John, I'm not making this up. His name was John. And I said, "Look, John". I said, "Look, you know, I called you last night, you've reserved this time. I'll pay you for your time. I want you to come. I'll go ahead and pay you for your time. Just tell me where to meet you". He said, "Well, I'll meet you at the service station right in front of the airport". I said, "Okay".

So we met at the airport there and I go over and I said, "What would the fare normally be"? And he told me, and I said, "Okay, I'm gonna give you that and give you a tip". When he started to leave, I said, "Hey, even though you didn't carry me, and I already paid you and I've given you a good tip," I said, "May I ask you to do one thing for me"? And he said, "What is it"? I had my best news card. I went to give it to him. I said, "Just take this". He put his hand up just like that. He said, "No, no, no, no, no. I don't take anything from anybody like that. I don't do it". I said, "Well look". I said, "Well at least just let me share with you the best news I've ever heard in my life". He said, "You don't understand. I don't want to hear it". I said, "Well look, I don't wanna force anything on you".

But I said, "Just to be clear, you don't want to hear that you're a sinner in need of a savior, and you don't wanna hear that Jesus died for your sins, and you don't wanna hear that he came back from the dead, and you don't wanna hear if you don't give your life to him, you're gonna spend eternity. Is that correct"? He said, "That's right. I don't wanna hear that". I said, "Okay". He said, "Now you can give your card to somebody else or just leave it on the back floor of my car".

Now here's my point. There's a guy that wouldn't even accept the seed. He didn't even wanna hear it. His heart was coated in spiritual Teflon. Sometimes you encounter that type of soil. People say, "Not interested". But then Jesus talks about the second kind of heart. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the Word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing they fall away. Now you going with me to Israel. I'm going to Israel this fall and a lot of people are going with us. Some of you're going with us. Much of Israel is limestone and it's bedrock and it's covered over with this thin layer of soil. Really, you don't really know it until you start walking on it. You can't see the rock from the dirt. But then you realize, "Man, this is just a thin layer. There's really hard rock underneath this".

So where the first soil, the seed could not get on, this is the seed where the seed cannot get down. The seed never takes root. Why did Jesus say that? Because the source of life of any plant is in the root. So even though these people said they believed, they never really had life, they had no root. Now I've seen this type of soil many times. I can't tell you many times I've seen people like this. They receive the message of the gospel with joy, and they make some kind of an emotional decision, and they give this appearance like they're ready to follow Jesus, but they're really not. One pastor called them spiritual five-minute wonders. They claim to be believers. They might go through the confirmation class. They might get baptized. They might even get involved. But you know, a month or two or three will go by and the FBI can't even find these people. The faith didn't take root.

Let me give you a practical example here. We have people who will tell us they made a decision for Christ. They'll go to the next steps table. We'll say, "Hey, go to the next steps table and give us the information that you prayed to receive Christ, or you wanna be baptized, you wanna join the church". We see this happen all the time. So they'll go back there and they'll say, "Hey, we prayed to receive Christ or we wanna be baptized". And we follow up. We call them, they won't answer. We email them, never respond. We write them, we text them, we never hear from them again. What happened? The seed not only didn't get on. The seed didn't get down. So you got the second kinda heart. Then Jesus describes the third heart. "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasure, and they do not mature".

This is the most frustrating one to me. This is the soil where not only the seed couldn't get down, and it couldn't get on, it couldn't get out. The gospel gets choked out by financial prosperity and worldly amusements. And you see, it's not that these people turn their backs on Jesus. It's not that. It's just that they finally make this decision, "I know you're real, but you're really not all that relevant. You're just really not that big of a deal". And these are people who hear the Word of God, and they say they wanna follow God, but you know what happens? All of a sudden you look up and all these extracurricular activities get in the way. The golf course, the lake house, cheerleading practice, the bigger paycheck, the corporate ladder just gets in the way.

And then there are other people, they don't have these things, but they want them so badly that they still get in the way. That's why you'll see this happen. You'll see a a so-called believer and they hit it big in the sports world, or the entertainment world, or the financial world, and guess what? They forget where they came from and they just walk away, never ever say a word about what they said they believe. Now at this point you may be discouraged. You may say, "Good grief, why bother sowing the seed at all if you've got all those kinds of heart"? Well then Jesus says, "Wait a minute. Listen to the last soil. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop".

Now this is the soil, this is the heart, they don't just hear it, they heed it. They don't just receive the gospel, they respond to the gospel. They don't just retain the gospel, they reproduce the gospel. It takes root. And I want you to listen carefully what I'm about to tell you. There are more than a few people, I've seen them, and they make what they call a, we'll call it a profession of faith. And they somehow get this idea in their mind you walk down an aisle, you fill out a card, you say a prayer, you get baptized, you attend a church, and you're saved, okay. So I'm gonna say something that a lot of preachers don't say anymore and it's uncomfortable, but it's what Jesus said. You are not saved by making a decision for Jesus. You are saved by surrendering your life to Jesus.

Now lemme just make something plain. It really doesn't matter whether you think I'm saved or not. And it doesn't matter whether I think you're saved or not. Here's what does matter. What does matter is, is that both of us should be able to look in the mirror and know that we're saved. And what should matter is that we're living our life in such a way that other people can look at us and say, "There is something different about you. There's something you have I don't have. There's something that you live that I do not live". Because we're not just, we're not saved just by something we say or something we sign. We're saved by the fruit that we bear. And so let me make it very clear. I wanna make no misunderstanding, no confusion. No, we're not saved by good works. We're not saved by giving to the church. We're not saved by religious activity. We're not saved by living a moral life.

But here's what I do absolutely believe. When you are saved, those things do follow, they do come, they do happen. Good works do not produce salvation. But good works do prove salvation. So I've seen this in my ministry. It's what keeps me in the game. There are people that we lead to Jesus and they mean it. They bear fruit. Their lives are changed. And you don't have to ask them, they'll show you. We've got people in this church right now that I personally have led to Christ and others have led to Christ. I can point out some of 'em in this room right now. And they serve, they give, they go on mission trips, they tithe, they build great homes, they built wonderful families, and they come hear the preaching of the Word of God, and there's joy in their life, and they are bearing fruit that is forever ripe, and they never rot.

And this leads to the last thing I want you to remember. Here's the thing. 'Cause what I don't want you to feel is this. "So boy you're really putting the pressure on me to go out and share the gospel". No I'm not. That's not, what I don't wanna do. I don't wanna put any pressure. 'Cause let me tell you something. Even if you go out because of the pressure I put on you, that pressure won't last very long. But here's the third thing I want you to remember. God is responsible to handle the harvest. God is responsible to handle the harvest. Remember, all a farmer can do, sow the seed, and once he does, the harvest is in God's hands. I don't know who's gonna accept Christ. You don't know who's gonna accept Christ. I don't know who's gonna reject Jesus. You don't know who's gonna reject Jesus. That's not even my job.

So we're gonna say it again. It's our job to go and sow, it's God's job to grow. Say it again. It's our job to go and sow. It's God's job to grow. Please get that in your heart. And I'm gonna share with you two sentences right now that I hope is gonna change your whole attitude. I hope it's gonna make you say, "Hey, I want more than one of these 'cause I wanna get in this business. I wanna get in the game here. Now I get it. Now I understand". Listen to this. The key to reaching people without Jesus is not the presentation of the message. It is the penetration of the heart.

Now if you understand that, raise both hands. Let's just be Pentecostal for a minute, all right? You understand that? All right, now see if you've been listening. There's the presentation, there's the penetration. Ready? Question. Whose job is the presentation? That's our job. Whose job is the penetration? That's God's job. No pressure on me. And I think that's why I can tell you, we can all be successful in doing what God has commanded and God has called everyone of us to do. 'Cause you know what success is? Here is success. Success is not when somebody prays to receive Christ. Success is not when somebody says, "I'll get baptized". Success is not when somebody says, "I'll join the church".

That is not success. You ready for this? Success is sowing the seed. That's success. Just sow the seed. Every time you drop that seed, you've been successful. If you're sharing what you know and if you're living what you share, that's all God asked. Yes, you can sow and have no harvest. That's proven in the parable. So all of that said, let me leave you with this thought and we're gonna be done. It's amazing to me, and I'm gonna be very honest. This is why I'm not God. You better be glad I'm not. I wouldn't have done what he did. I'm just telling you, I wouldn't have done what he did.

But the God that created this universe decided, "I wanna make all of you a junior partner in my company. I wanna give you some stock in my company. And I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna entrust you with the greatest mission the world has ever seen. I'm gonna entrust you with the mission of giving people the gift of eternal life, of giving people the one message from the one master that can bring help to the helpless, hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurting". And here's the amazing thing. The reward for being God's partner is off the charts. And all God asked us to do is sow the seed.
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